D-Day for Intel's Pentium III

Consumers stand to gain from Intel's roll out of 15 new Pentium III chips. Intel rival AMD is already planning Athlon price cuts.

Intel Corp.'s launch of the Pentium III chip Monday morning will be its largest single processor launch ever. But, for end users, the new chips mean systems with more bang for the buck when it comes to price and performance.

Intel is rolling out 15 new Pentium III chips -- including nine new desktop Pentium III processors ranging from 500MHz to 733MHz and the first mobile Pentium III chips. The new chips offer higher clock speed performance for comparatively low prices. The 733MHz desktop Pentium III, for example, will cost £465. A little competition has gone a long way to help this along, according to analysts.

Intel, which had been battling Advanced Micro Devices for the low-end PC market, is now trading blows with the company, whose high-end Athlon chip runs at 700MHz."If Athlon weren't around, I'm not sure we'd see (733MHz) yet," said Mike Feibus, principal at market research firm Mercury Research "I've got to believe that AMD's got a role in determining how fast parts come out if Intel and at what price." In other words, the AMD-Intel tussle is good for customers.

Coppermine inside

The new Pentium III chips are different from the current Pentium III and Pentium II chips in several ways. They utilise a new design, code-named Coppermine.

This new design moves the Pentium III to Intel's newest 0.18 micron manufacturing process. This will improve processor yields and at the same time increase clock speed and lower power consumption, versus current 0.25 micron manufacturing process used in Pentium II and Pentium III chips. It will also lead to smaller die-size, allowing the integration of 256KB Level 2 cache with desktop Pentium III chips, a performance enhancing trick that can yield increases of between five percent and 10 percent. Many, but not all of the new chips support a 133MHz system bus as well. This improves bandwidth over a 100MHz system bus. The system bus moves data between the processor, system memory and other components inside a PC.

Intel: 25 percent faster Intel says the new Pentium III chips are up to 25 percent faster then their predecessors based on the CPU Mark 32 benchmark. CPU Mark is a Ziff-Davis benchmark. Ziff-Davis is the parent company of ZDNet.

The newest Pentium IIIs are faster and cheaper to manufacture, so Intel has priced them aggressively. Desktop PCs with the 733MHz chip will range in price from about £1,200 to £1,500. Desktops using Intel's 667MHz Pentium III will likely fall to below £1,200 shortly after the launch. The lower speed chips will find their way into systems priced as low as about £720 when combined with Intel's low cost 810E chipset for Pentium III.

Intel will drop prices on Pentium III chips by six percent to 24 percent, and Pentium II prices by up to two percent. Celeron prices will fall as well, with price cuts on those chips, which are aimed at low-cost PCs, by five percent to eight percent, sources said. New PIII desktops, notebooks Potential customers should expect to see new desktops from major vendors, including Dell Computer, IBM, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. Also receiving a major boost in the bang-for-the-buck stakes will be notebook PCs. Intel will launch its first new mobile Pentium III chips at speeds of 400MHz, 450MHz and 500MHz. The new mobile Pentium III, supports a higher bus bandwidth, 100MHz as opposed to the mobile Pentium II's 66MHz. This, along with the faster processor speeds, should yield performance improvements of between 10 percent and 50 percent, depending on the application used.

Intel says it expects to see new notebooks with the 500MHz Pentium III come in at under £1,200. The 500MHz chip is expected to cost £318, while the 450MHz and 400MHz will be priced at £208. The 400MHz Pentium III was developed as a low-power processor for mini-notebooks.

New notebooks, including some new mini-notebook designs, are expected from major vendors. Intel will also launch Pentium III Xeon chips for servers and workstations that run at 600MHz, 667MHz and 700MHz, along with a new chip set -- the 840 -- Monday.

AMD to cut Athlon prices

Greater bang-for-the-buck isn't limited to just Intel customers, either. AMD is expected to drop its Athlon prices in response to the new chips from Intel. Details on the depth of those price cuts were unavailable at press time. The company is now shipping a 700MHz Athlon processor, which supports a 200MHz system bus. A 750MHz Athlon is expected in the first quarter of next year.

AMD also plans to move to a 0.18 micron process on its Athlon and also on its K6-2 and K6-III chips next year as well. It is unclear as of yet whether the 750MHz Athlon will be based on the its current 0.25 micron of the next generation 0.18 micron process. The company has demonstrated an 800MHz Athlon that is based on 0.18. AMD plans to push the Athlon to 1GHz in the second half of next year. Intel's Pentium III Coppermine chips are expected to top out around 900MHz, at which point the company will bring in a new processor architecture, code-named Willamette, aimed at 1GHz and faster speeds. This is expected to happen in late 2000 or early 2001.