Tuesday 5th October was an important date for the Intel world too, as Intel offered some performance specifics for Itanium, its newly christened 64-bit processor aimed at high-performance workstations and servers. These chips are the high end G3/4 series' closest competitor.

Intel hopes the chip, which is due to ship in systems in mid-2000, will allow it to gain a foothold in the markets for powerful workstations and servers, where RISC-type processors from the likes of Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard currently hold sway.

Itanium is Intel's first 64-bit processor, it can process data in chunks 64 bits long. 32-bit processors, such as the Pentium III, process data 32 bits at a time.

Intel explained that the chip can execute 20 instructions per clock cycle, with the capability to handle a theoretical 6 billion floating point operations per minute. Floating point performance is important for mathematically intensive scientific applications and multimedia.

The company hasn't disclosed any pricing information yet. Nor will it say how fast the processor will run, although clock speed is only one measure of a chip's performance.

"Intel-based machines are already far and away the market-share leader for the Internet infrastructure, but with Itanium and IA-64 we hope to move into segments that demand even more computing power," said Ron Cully, marketing director for Intel's IA-64 division.

In its sights are powerful Internet servers used to run high-traffic Web sites, servers used in data centers and high-end workstations used for computer-aided design and video applications, Cully said.

Making a success out of Itanium won't be a walk in the park. Analysts have noted the complexity of developing a new chip architecture and producing mass quantities, and Intel already has acknowledged a handful of delays with its development of the chip.

Intel won't just be competing with established RISC vendors such as Sun: chip rival Advanced Micro Devices disclosed plans at the conference today to offer its own 64-bit chip, dubbed SledgeHammer. While the AMD chip is unlikely to be as far down the development road as Itanium, analysts point to Athlon, AMD's new desktop PC chip, as evidence that the company is capable of executing on its plans.

Intel officials are quick to note that Itanium's success won't be tied to long-time ally Microsoft's ability to deliver its forthcoming Windows 2000 operating system on time. Intel already has demonstrated Itanium running on 64-bit versions of Linux and Novell's NetWare, as well as on various Unix flavors.

The success of Windows 2000 is important to Intel, "but we don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket here," Cully said.