New processors talked up at WinHEC

Intel Corp. last week walked developers attending Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference though the next iteration of the Intel-based desktop.

Available in September, the PC will sport a 500MHz or faster Pentium III chip with 4X AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port), Rambus Direct RAM (which requires Intel's forthcoming 820 chip set with a 133MHz front side bus) and a hard drive that supports ATA66, a recently introduced disk drive interface that can transfer twice as much data as today's ATA33 drive.

Doing the presenting was Pat Gelsinger, Intel's vice president and general manager for desktop products, in a keynote speech at the conference in Los Angeles. Gelsinger also outlined Intel's work on two initiatives, Easy PC and the Concept PC Project, aimed at simplifying PCs and developing models that are more targeted toward specific applications, respectively. PCs developed as part of the Concept Platform Project, a joint development with Microsoft, "target specific functionality and usage models, building on PC technologies, but taking as a design point those particular applications," Gelsinger said. New technologies such as Rambus Direct RAM should ease some of the bottlenecks in memory and graphics bandwidth that corporate IT managers find so frustrating.

While Intel is working on simplifying and speeding up the desktop, so is the competition. Advanced Micro Devices Inc., for example, is planning to challenge Intel on the high end with its new K7 chip. Due in June, the K7 will start at 500MHz and support between 512KB and 8MB of Level 2 cache. It will also utilise the EV6 front side bus, licensed from Digital Equipment Corp., running at 200MHz. K7 will come in a cartridge, called slot A, which is compatible with Intel's slot 1.

Here at WinHEC AMD demonstrated a 600MHz K7 with the 200MHz memory bus, 128MB of 100MHz memory and a chip set of its own design. "It's definitely our target to be in those business SKUs from those top tier OEMs," said Bryan Longmire, product marketing manager for the K6.

The K7 will begin life as a chip for desktop PCs. Over time, however, AMD plans to build a family of K7 chips for servers, that support multiprocessing as well as for mobile applications. AMD officials would not say when K7 will be available for use in servers; a mobile version of the chip will not be available until the company moves to a .18 micron manufacturing process.

The chip will be manufactured initially using a .25 micron process. AMD will move to .18 micron early next year and from aluminium to copper interconnects in the middle of next year. Meanwhile, on the low end, National Semiconductor Inc.'s Cyrix division plans to ramp up higher speeds for its MII chip, which competes against Intel's Celeron. A 366MHz MII is due shortly. The company will ship 400MHz and 433MHz versions in the May/June time frame. A 466MHz MII is slated for the fourth quarter. "Our goal is to have a competitive position in the sub-$1,000 (£610) even sub-$800, market," said Ajay Misra, senior marketing manager for Cyrix's standalone processors.

Intel also plans to move to .18 micron manufacturing. Gelsinger said the company is already manufacturing .18 micron chips on a limited basis for testing. Its first chip built on .18 will be a 400MHz mobile Pentium II, due in June.


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