Pentium III gets a new lease on life

Intel will revise its venerable chip even after the launch of Pentium 4, as AMD keeps up the pressure

Intel is set to continue revising its Pentium III processor, even after the introduction of the Pentium 4, with a 1.13GHz PIII scheduled to arrive this week.

Intel's move to extend the life of the "Coppermine" version of Pentium III comes as arch-rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) continues to keep up the pressure on the mainstream PC market with its Athlon, K6 and Duron processors. AMD recently renewed its attack on Intel's low-cost Celeron chip with the Duron processor, also unveiling the "Thunderbird" revision of Athlon for mainstream computers.

Intel's Pentium 4 will launch later this year, but will initially be aimed at high-end platforms such as workstations and servers. It won't be available in mainstream PCs until sometime next year, according to Intel.

So, in the meantime, Pentium III will have to fill the gap. "We have a healthy product line with the Pentium III," said a senior Intel spokesman. "As with any new performance product, the latest product will sit on top of the performance stack. Over time [the Pentium 4] will kick into volume manufacturing."

Intel's plans for Pentium III may even go beyond the chip coming this week: an industry report, citing an Intel spokesman, claims Pentium III will be ported to the upcoming 0.13-micron manufacturing process, which would boost its clock speed upwards of 1.4GHz. Intel's current line of chips are manufactured using the 0.18-micron process.

The report from lectronic Buyer's News, which cites analyst Bert McComas of InQuest and unnamed sources, says Intel will continue pushing the PIII forward because of pressure from Athlon. An Intel spokesman confirmed the Pentium III will shift to 0.13-micron, according to the report.

An Intel spokesman in Europe said Intel will eventually move all its chips to 0.13-micron geometry, but said there is no link to Pentium III.

Smaller geometry allows the chip's die size to be reduced, meaning lower power consumption, less heat emission, faster speeds and a more efficient use of silicon wafers.

A senior AMD spokesman said Athlon's growing consumer acceptance in the mainstream PC market seems to be influencing Intel's decision-making. "I suppose this must be in response to competition from AMD, because they've never bothered doing things like this before," the spokesman said.

AMD is much smaller than Intel, with only three "megafabs", about half the number at Intel's disposal, but that has allowed AMD to introduce some features into its chips more quickly.

For example, many of AMD's "Thunderbird" Athlons are manufactured with copper interconnects, rather than aluminium. Copper interconnects allow for smaller die sizes than aluminium.

Intel is planning to shift all its chips to a copper process, but must wait until all its plants can be refitted. AMD's new plant in Dresden uses copper interconnects while its Austin plant manufactures with aluminium.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including an interactive timeline of AMD and Intel's upcoming product launches.

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