Intel has pushed back the release of its Itanium processor by a quarter, meaning the first servers and workstations powered by its first 64-bit chip won't hit the streets until early next year. In a conference call to discuss the company's financial results Tuesday, Intel executives said the new processor won't add to its revenues until the fourth quarter, one quarter later than previously expected. The first "pilot" Itanium systems will be available shortly, but general availability of Itanium PCs, operating systems and applications won't materialize until the first half of 2001, Paul Otellini, vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, said in the conference call. The decision to push back the Itanium release was apparently made recently. Just last week Ron Curry, an Intel marketing director, said in an interview that the first Itanium systems were on track for delivery before the end of this year. Despite the delay, Intel "continued to make solid progress" with Itanium during the past quarter, Otellini said. The processor, which was formerly known as Merced and was developed with input from HP, was originally expected to appear 1999. Intel supplies around 85 per cent of the processors used in desktop PCs and low-end servers. Itanium is an important chip because, along with subsequent 64-bit offerings, it's expected to help Intel penetrate the more lucrative markets for higher-end workstations and servers, where RISC (reduced instruction set computer) chips from the likes of Sun and IBM currently hold sway. The delay in Itanium will push the chip's release closer onto the heels of McKinley, a follow-up 64-bit processor which Intel plans to release in next year's second half. Intel has said McKinley will have double the performance of its first 64-bit offering, and some analysts have said they expect McKinley to quickly eclipse its predecessor. The delay should also give Microsoft some breathing room with its 64-bit version of Windows, which was released in pre-beta form last week. Microsoft plans to launch the 64-bit version of Windows at around the same time the first Itanium systems go on sale, Michael Stephenson, lead product manager for Windows Enterprise Server, said in an interview last week.