3GHz Pentium 4 may mean pricier PCs

The requirements of Intel's upcoming chip are forcing many motherboard makers to redesign their products, adding to manufacturing costs

Motherboard makers are gearing up to support Intel's upcoming 3GHz Pentium 4, and the cost of their upgraded parts could mean a price hike for PC buyers.

The Pentium 4 is expected to break the 3GHz barrier in late September or early October, but the faster chip will require a new power supply and other new technology. As a result, Taiwanese motherboard makers are planning to create separate versions of their main products in order to support the new chip, according to a report on Wednesday in Taiwanese industry journal DigiTimes.

Besides putting inventory-control pressure on the motherboard makers, the duplicate lines will add $2 (about £1.28) in production costs for each board, according to the report. This could turn into higher wholesale motherboard prices and, ultimately, add to the cost of 3GHz Pentium 4 systems.

Taiwan is home to many of the biggest PC motherboard makers, including Acer Laboratories (ALI), Asus, Chaintech, First International Computer (FIC) and Gigabyte.

Most companies have already finished their new designs, but some are continuing their development work in an attempt to bring prices down, according to the report.

The 3GHz Pentium 4 will require a 70-watt power supply, making it incompatible with current 60-watt motherboards. This will mean changing a power-control circuit called a pulse width modulation controller, according to the report. On top of that, to make room for more components, board makers will have to rearrange the boards' circuit layouts.

Intel is expected to release a Pentium 4 running at 2.8GHz on Monday and recently shifted up the schedule for the 3GHz part in order to make it available for the Christmas shopping season. The current fastest Pentium 4 runs at 2.53GHz and costs $637 in quantities of 1,000. Intel is currently using a manufacturing process that creates chip features 0.13 microns in size, but is planning to shift to a 0.09-micron process next year.

The 2.8GHz parts will also begin the shift to using silicon wafers that are 300 millimetres in diameter, a larger size that allows Intel to cut manufacturing costs.

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