Intel moves forward with Tualatin

The computer maker announces two major technological switiches for the Tualatin processor: a new 0.13-micron manufacturing process, and the use of copper to connect circuits on the chip.

NEW YORK--Intel has moved forward in two major areas of the chipmaking process with "Tualatin", the new Pentium III processor the company showed off at the PC Expo trade show Wednesday.

Tualatin, also known as Pentium III-M, will initially be used mainly in notebooks. Intel executives said all of the major notebook makers, including Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer, Fujitsu and Sony, will adopt the new chip. Several have shown Tualatin-powered notebooks at PC Expo, part of the Technology Exchange Week New York event.

Tualatin uses Intel's new 0.13-micron manufacturing process, which allows smaller circuits to be printed on the chip, thus increasing the processing power that can be squeezed onto a piece of silicon. Tualatin also marks Intel's entry into the chip industry's copper shift, using the metal to connect circuits on the chip.

It's unusual for a chipmaker to make two major shifts with the same product, but Intel felt the time was right for both, Frank Spindler, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Computing Group, said in a PC Expo interview.

The 0.13-micron manufacturing process essentially shrinks the size of processor features from the current 0.18-micron process. That means faster chips that consume less power.

"We think everything about the 0.13-micron technology is significant," Spindler said.

The move to copper interconnects--the metal wires that connect transistors--also promises faster clock speeds.

Intel is the last large chipmaker to switch to copper, after Advanced Micro Devices, IBM and Motorola. Spindler said that Intel, which takes an incremental approach to adding new technologies to its chips, didn't feel it needed copper right away.

"We have found that other companies will highlight a particular technology like copper because it helps them overcome architectural issues with their designs," Spindler said. "We're not trying to overcome a core weakness.

"We waited until it provided a substantial benefit. It's going to help us get to higher frequencies, and it will help on the power" consumption.

The incremental approach to new technologies boils down to "a lot of stuff over a long period of time," Spindler said, as opposed to creating a brand-new chip from the ground up.

"It underscores the point that delivering performance and lower power is more than one magic thing," he said.

Tualatin's speed and power advantages will initially be concentrated in laptops. Compaq announced a Tualatin-powered notebook at PC Expo that weighs 2.5 pounds and runs for eight hours on a battery charge.

Notebooks, which continue to outdistance desktop PCs in sales growth, have become increasingly important to Intel as the PC market stalls. Tualatin will become Intel's new bread-and-butter processor for mobile. Despite the planned introduction of a mobile Pentium 4 next year, Tualatin will live through 2003 before Intel replaces it, company executives said.

The first Tualatin chips are expected to range in clock speed from 866MHz to 1.13GHz when they debut late next month. Later, Intel will introduce low- and ultra-low-voltage versions of the chip.

Compaq executives also said the company would adopt Pentium III-M in its Presario 1700 series later in the year.

Workstation and server versions of Tualatin will be available later, but desktop PCs based on the chip are unlikely.

Intel executives said the company is encouraging PC makers to use the chips only for consumer-oriented desktops, while relying on the Pentium 4 for corporate machines.

Compaq, for one, says it's happy with its current mix of Pentium III, Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon processors. It will not offer Tualatin in consumer desktops.

"Tualatin was attractive for notebooks, but we felt that we've got an AMD solution so that Tualatin didn't make a lot of sense" for consumer desktops, said Will Townsend, senior manager of marketing for retail desktops in Compaq's Consumer Products Group.

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