I/O compromise could be near

According to representatives at Intel, one of the leading proponents of the Next Generation I/O (NGIO) specification, negotiations to create a unified I/O (input/output) architecture for upcoming hardware releases have heated up of late, and a compromise may be near.

The two camps, the NGIO Forum headed by Intel and the Future I/O Forum, which is led by a number of system vendors including Compaq Computer, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, have been in discussions for some time, with both sides maintaining the desire to settle on a single design. Until now, however, progress has been slow.

It appears, though, that the two groups could announce a compromise any day now.

"Something could break soon," said the Intel representative.

Kim Brown, an analyst at Dataquest in San Jose, California, said rumors of a compromise have been building over the past week, and it does not appear the Future I/O partners can hold out much longer.

"I don't think (the Future I/O partners) have any choice, they've gotta play," said Brown. "They have no power in this thing."

According to Brown, the Future I/O push has been an attempt all along by systems vendors to maintain a technological differentiator for their higher-end systems, which would allow them to continue making high-margin, semi low-volume designs.

"They're seeing Intel at some stage surpassing what they can do with their own RISC (reduced instruction set computer), and they don't trust Intel at all," said Brown.

However, Brown said, the effort to maintain a separate I/O as a differentiator would ultimately fall short even without a compromise, as Intel would eventually be able to establish NGIO as the standard in the same way it has successfully promoted other technologies, simply by driving volumes.

That would then force the vendors to do what they are currently pledging they will not, ship hardware that uses the NGIO specification. At this point, Brown said, it's just a matter of the Future I/O partners seeing what concessions they can win from Intel at the bargaining table.

"If (the Future I/O partners) want to keep playing this game of, 'we're not gonna ship NGIO,' then Dell will, and they'll beat them," said Brown. "It sounds like they'll finally give in, they're gonna go ahead and make NGIO."

If an agreement is reached in the next few days, the timing would be perfect for Intel. The company could use its developers forum, to be held this week in Palm Springs, as the platform from which to launch the unified I/O specification.

However, while signs do point to a compromise, optimism remains guarded. Invitations for the NGIO Developers Conference, to be held in Newport, California, at the end of September, will be sent out this week.

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