The chipmaker will release 1.8GHz and 1.6GHz Pentium 4 processors in early July, sources said.
But instead of trumpeting that it has the fastest PC processor lineup, Intel appears to be plotting to use the new chips to fill gaps in its Pentium 4 lineup as it prepares to launch its 2GHz Pentium 4 chip in a few months.
Analysts say that PC makers will use the new chips to help differentiate their Pentium 4 systems from one another or from PCs using Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon chip.
"It could be that Intel is looking to close up holes where AMD could squeeze in with a unique clock speed and pricing," said Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst at Microdesign Resources.
The minor performance boost offered by the extra 100MHz isn't likely to do much to boost lagging Pentium 4 sales. Mercury Research statistics show Intel shipped about 1 million Pentium 4 chips in the first quarter of 2001. The company expects Intel to ship about 2 million in the second quarter, putting Intel well below its forecasts of 20 million Pentium 4 chips sold this year.
Analysts say a forthcoming chipset will be a stronger factor than clock speed in determining Pentium 4 sales. The chipset, code-named "Brookdale," will allow the Pentium 4 to work with less-expensive synchronous DRAM memory. Currently, the Pentium 4 only works with pricier Rambus memory.
"You have to wonder what's the least significant (clock speed) increase at these speeds," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Mercury Research.
PC makers, though, should appreciate having a few more Pentium 4 flavors. "In their desire to differentiate, I expect them to do it with Pentium 4 as well," he said. "I don't expect them to be barn-burner (chips), but they will help (PC manufacturers) differentiate."
PC makers might choose to use the new chips for certain niches based on customer demands or possibly on pricing. Analysts said that Dell Computer, for example, might like to have a 1.6GHz Pentium 4 system handy to combat future Compaq Computer systems that will feature 1.6GHz Athlon chips.
Intel made a similar move last January when it introduced a 1.3GHz Pentium 4 priced below existing 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz versions. The goal was to help bring prices for Pentium 4 PCs below $2,000.
The new chips will give Intel a processor for every 100MHz speed grade, ranging from 1.3GHz to 1.8GHz. Analysts say it's unlikely Intel will bother with a 1.9GHz version of the chip, however, because it would be overshadowed by the 2GHz. The 2GHz is expected to launch in late August or early September.
An Intel representative declined to comment.