Intel closes in on 1,000MHz chip

1GHz: It's the next major milestone for microprocessor speed. Intel plans to update the industry on its efforts to develop a 1,000MHz chip at a conference in February, with possible shipment by the end of 2000

Coming closer to breaking the next major chip barrier, Intel plans to disclose plans for a 1,000MHz Pentium III chip in February.

The chip maker will present a paper on the 1,000MHz, or 1GHz, Pentium III, which is based on its current Pentium III design, code-named Coppermine, at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) on 7 February.

Intel first showed off a Pentium III running at about 1GHz early this year at its developer forum in Palm Springs, California. The demonstration, however, used a cooling technology to allow the chip to reach 1GHz. The Pentium III design to be talked about at the conference would run at 1GHz at normal room temperature.

While the ISSCC presentation will be just that, a paper, Intel officials have said the company will offer a version of the chip at 1GHz if it is feasible. Feasibility takes into account a number of factors, such as reliability of the chip, availability and economic feasibility.

Intel, however, is becoming more aggressive with its processor introductions in light of competition from Advanced Micro Devices, whose Athlon chip burst on the scene last August at a top speed of 650MHz. AMD has since outpaced Intel's top speed Pentium III chips, with 700MHz and 750MHz Athlon launches. Intel's top speed is 733MHz.

Though clock speed is only one factor in the overall performance of a PC, it is an important one when consumers consider PC purchases. Other factors are also important. Intel, for example, uses a 100MHz or 133MHz system bus with its Pentium III chips, while the Athlon supports 200MHz. The system bus is the data pipeline between the chip and memory. As a result, Intel is expected to announce a 750MHz and possibly an 800MHz Pentium III chip, Monday. If it announces the 800MHz part, Intel will take back the title of "fastest chip".

Advanced Micro Devices is expected to announce an 800MHz Athlon chip in early January. What's more, it will likely add Gateway to its list of Athlon OEMs in the near future. As the battle heats up Intel will likely push hard to ship the 1GHz Pentium III chip. That chip would likely be announced late in 2000.

While Pentium III would likely top out at 1GHz, Intel is planning a successor to the chip, code-named Willamette, for the end of next year. This chip, which sports a whole new 32-bit architecture, will be capable of 1GHz and faster speeds, the company says.

The Pentium III chip will achieve the clock-rate milestone at room temperature, according to conference organisers. It will feature an optimised design that, among other things, tweaks interconnect aspect ratios, for greater performance. Interconnects are tiny pieces of wire that run between transistors inside the processor. They are measured in microns, a measurement that is 1 millionth of a meter. The Pentium III features 0.18 micron interconnects.

Compaq Computer, Alpha Processor and Samsung Electronics, which collaborate on the design and development of the Alpha processor, will present a paper on a version of that chip with a core frequency of 1GHz. IBM will also present on a 1GHz PowerPC chip.

AMD, which will present a paper on its Athlon processor at the conference, is gunning for the 1GHz mark as well.

AMD officials say it will also achieve the 1GHz mark in the second half of next year. It is not clear what clock speed Athlon will be discussed at the ISSCC. AMD, however, has demonstrated 900MHz versions of the chip at room temperature, with both aluminium and copper interconnect technology. It plans to do so again during January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, company officials said.

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