One More Hat In Intel's Ring

At last month's CeBIT Computer Show in Germany, regarded as a top showcase for new technology, a tiny company from Milpitas, Calif., walked off with the prize for the most innovative product--which was barely a week old. It's the Nx586 chip, put out by NexGen Microsystems Inc., a new challenger to Intel Corp.'s dominance in microprocessors. NexGen claims Nx586 outperforms comparable Pentium chips at certain chores yet costs up to 25% less. The secret? A proprietary method of converting normal software commands into speedier reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) instructions. Cyrix Corp. in Richardson, Tex., is taking a similar route for its Pentium rival, due for unveiling later this year.

Longer term, Intel may face stiffer competition from the Open Microprocessor Systems Initiative, or OMI. It's a European Union project involving 40 teams of 100-odd companies and universities, with a $270 million budget. Directed by Theo Vaes of Toditec, a consulting firm in Antwerp, OMI is developing a library of microprocessor cores and related circuits to be combined on one chunk of silicon. The goal: a single chip that can run software written for several breeds of RISC chips--and perhaps Intel chips as well, now that NexGen, Cyrix, and IBM have shown that Intel's patents can be gotten around.