Original Document

AIM to fire back at Intel with MMX-style chips

By David Morgenstern (david_morgenstern@zd.com)

Aiming to counter Intel Corp.'s MMX assault on the multimedia market, the PowerPC partners are planning their own set of multimedia extensions to their architecture, sources said. Slated for inclusion by late 1998, the routines will accelerate digital video, 3-D and graphics processing.

IBM Microelectronics Division of East Fishkill, N.Y., and Motorola RISC Microprocessor division of Austin, Texas, reportedly completed work recently on the specification, named VMX, for Video and Multimedia Extensions.

The new extensions, sources said, will be optimized for JPEG, MPEG-2 and Digital Video standards. VMX will also boost the performance of 2-D and 3-D graphics and high-quality audio.

According to sources, IBM and Motorola intend to add VMX to the upcoming PowerPC architecture code-named G4 and are considering it for some future G3 processors (see 08.05.96, Page 1). The instructions will not edge out any other expected processor feature, such as on-board caches. "There's plenty of room on these chips for more instructions," said a source familiar with the plans.

In addition, the VMX routines will not require context switching, unlike Intel's current MMX scheme, which suffers a delay when switching between floating-point and MMX instructions.

However, some members in the PowerPC camp place more stock in raw processing performance, sources said, rather than in accelerating specific multimedia routines.

"We're beating MMX now and will continue to widen the gap," said another source. "MMX has been great [for Intel] from a marketing perspective, but I have a lot more faith in faster processors."

"Does it make sense - for both marketing and technological reasons - to specifically accelerate multimedia? Absolutely," said analyst Pieter Hartsook of the Saratoga, Calif.-based Hartsook Letter, after being informed of the plans by MacWEEK. "The PowerPC partners' current response to Intel's MMX is: 'We don't need to respond.' That's nonsense; they should be worried."

Analysts said Intel's next-generation P6 processor, code-named Klamath, will be the competitor of the VMX-enabled PowerPC chips. Klamath will improve the context-switching performance of MMX routines.

Sources said programmers will be able to access the VMX architecture via QuickTime Media Layer acceleration APIs. Apple is also considering offering access through a general acceleration API or through MediaLib, a cross-platform library that is expected to support several media coprocessors and on-chip acceleration routines (see 11.25.96, Page 1).

Sources said the VMX plans will not disturb Apple's use of the TriMedia digital signal processor from Philips Semiconductors of Sunnyvale, Calif. The media coprocessor will be used on high-end Power Macs by the end of the year (see 05.19.97, Page 9).

Apple, IBM and Motorola each declined to comment.

Copyright © 1997 Ziff-Davis Inc.