Motorola last week announced plans to release the PowerPC 7500 (G5) processor within two years. Despite Intel's promise to deliver its 64-bit processor code before then, a Motorola executive has said the G5 should more than match Merced in both speed and compatibility.

Recently, Intel officials demonstrated initial samples of Merced processors, saying that some have run at more than 800 MHz in the company's labs. Intel said production versions should be available to OEMs in mid-2000.

Merced is Intel's first attempt at building a 64-bit processor, and can handle instructions and blocks of data twice the size of 32-bit processors. In order to work with existing applications written in 32-bit code, the processor emulates a 32-bit processor – thus losing the speed gains.

In contrast, the 64-bit version of the G5 – which will also be available in a 32-bit version – will be able to run 32-bit applications "in full native mode," according to Motorola’s PowerPC marketing director, Will Swearingen. This should eliminate the considerable overhead involved with emulation, and let applications take full advantage of the G5's speed. In addition, Swearingen said that except for processor-specific embedded OSs, the 64-bit G5 will require "virtually no" alterations to application code. Combined with the 2-GHz speeds at which the G5 should debut, according to a recent Motorola road map, this design should afford the G5 a distinct performance advantage over the Merced.

Merced will be best suited for larger servers, on account of it's expected high price, cigarette-pack size and heat output. In contrast, Motorola's G5 has been designed with the desktop in mind, according to Motorola.

Motorola also continues to work on the current G4 chip. That processor will move to silicon-on-insulator technology, a fabricating process that, according to the Microprocessor Report: "Can boost microprocessor speeds by up to 35 per cent over conventional bulk-CMOS processes, or it can reduce their power consumption by up to 65 percent at the same speed."

Swearingen would not comment on when the SOI-based G4 would ship, he acknowledged that Motorola has had SOI G4's: "Working in the labs for several years."