Intel flexes muscle at Pentium III launch

Bolstered by a $300m (£180m) marketing campaign, more than 200 companies previewed their Pentium III-optimised wares here at Intel's Pentium III preview day on Wednesday.

If there was any doubt over Intel's newest processor family, the event may well have quashed them. "With $300 million in marketing, Intel simply creates markets," said Nick Glassman, manager of Excite's Excite Extreme, a new 3-D search engine shown off by the Californian company at the Intel event.

While Pentium III is not the greatest technical leap forward, it does add more than 70 multimedia-oriented instructions, along with some security features, to what is essentially a Pentium II core.

PCs based on the Pentium III are due to hit shelves on Feb. 28 and should be priced as low as $2,000. The changes were not major ones, said observers. "We were surprised when they went ahead and called this 'Pentium III' instead of some variation on Pentium II," said Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst at chip technology watcher Micro Design Resources.

He noted that Intel has essentially added new features to the existing architecture, rather than creating a new architecture. Still, even Glaskowsky expects that "anyone who is buying a top-of-the-line PC is going to insist on the PIII processor."

Intel executives pushed the processor as a tool that will make the Internet friendlier and e-commerce more compelling. In fact, much of Intel's marketing budget seems aimed squarely at the Internet, though no Intel executive would give exact amounts.

Judging by the presentations, what Intel means by "better Internet" is 3-D on the Web. While it may not be clear why that would improve the average consumer's Web experience, Excite's Glassman noted that "if there is a promise of 3-D, it is to present more data to the user and make it more readable."

Graphics chip makers are certainly glad that Intel is renewing its focus on 3D -- not just for the consumer, but for business as well. If Intel can help bring 3-D to businesses, that opens up approximately one-third of the market that has been reluctant to adopt 3-D technology. "They are back on track, saying that 3-D is important everywhere," said Mike Hara, vice president of corporate marketing at Nvidia. "Intel's persistence is making this go down."

Despite its focus on the Pentium III's 3-D graphics prowess, Intel is not just pushing those features alone. "We're not going to brand this as we did with MMX," said Mike Aymar, vice president and director of Intel's platform launch organisation.

Instead, Intel is focusing on the Pentium III as a whole, perhaps because a head-to-head contest against rival Advanced Micro Devices would yield little benefit.

Aymar pointed out that Intel took care of business with the Pentium III, literally. While MMX lacked business-oriented applications, some 40 percent of the applications on display here Wednesday were aimed at businesses.

Meanwhile, the other feature that differentiates the new processor from its Pentium II brethren -- the processor serial number -- continued to cause Intel some consternation. Citing privacy concerns, on Monday two privacy-advocacy groups announced renewed efforts at boycotting the Pentium III. The organisations warned that the chip ID feature could compromise users' privacy on the Internet.

Intel maintained that it would continue to ship the processor as is, though in a nod to the privacy groups, the company said the processor's serial number would be toggled off.

"Our belief is that the [processor serial number] is a valuable feature," Aymar said. "We didn't put it in there just to take it out." He said that 25 of the applications on display used the serial number in ways that might be interesting to businesses.

For instance, PC maker Compaq added features using the processor serial number to its Compaq Insight Manager,which is used to manage company resources. The application can keep track of computers, monitors, and printers using internal IDs. In the past the system could use memory serial numbers or network-interface card IDs -- now, it uses the processor serial number.


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