Intel eyes 450MHz chips, 'lean' clients

Intel Corp. has disclosed plans to build products for everything from $500 Java-based clients to "lean" clients to eight-way servers.
Written by Lisa DiCarlo, Contributor

At its biannual financial briefing near its headquarters in California, Intel's top ranks also disclosed an aggressive Pentium II road map for portables, desktops and servers.

The strategy is based on delivering specially built products for every segment of computing, whether it be for business or consumer use.

"We will have a single Pentium II brand, but with substantially different implementations, from low-end basic PCs to high-performance workstations and servers,'' said Craig Barrett, president and chief operating officer.

For performance-oriented business desktops, that means Pentium II microprocessors that reach 450MHz by the end of 1998. These systems will also reach 1Gb of graphics bandwidth.

Today's Pentium II tops out at 300MHz. By early 1998, Intel will deliver a 333MHz processor with 512KB of L2 cache, followed by a 350MHz, 400MHz and, finally, the 450MHz version, Barrett said.

Intel is also throwing a lot of weight behind the sub-$1,000 PC. In addition to delivering a lower-cost, no-cache version of the Pentium II in mid-1998, the company will also release a reference profile for building what it calls a "lean client."

The reference profile, due in the first quarter of 1998, will be a "simplified version of the NetPC spec but will include the same management architecture,'' said Paul Otellini, executive vice president, worldwide sales and marketing.

He added that systems based on the spec could hit as low as $500 and could be "diskless" machines that run under a myriad of operating environments, such as the forthcoming multiuser version of Windows NT - called Hydra - or Java.

"The reference spec for lean clients will enable OEMs to build systems in the $500-to-$1,200 range,'' he said.

To ensure high performance and low cost at that price point, Intel will build highly integrated chip sets that include graphics functions, among other things, Otellini said. In addition, it will move traditional hardware functions such as modem, audio and DVD into software, which will also reduce cost.

The latter is Cyrix Corp.'s worst nightmare. The Richardson, Texas, company has staked its future on the system-on-a-chip concept, which pools several functions onto a single processor for a very low-cost solution. Since Intel previously seemed uninterested in enabling such low-cost systems and their attendant low margins, Cyrix, along with its new National Semiconductor Inc. parent, had hoped to own the market.

"To date, we have not served the terminal replacement market, but we have been concerned and focused on this for some time. However, there is no conclusive data that shows sub-$1,000 PCs are expanding the market in the United States,'' Otellini said.

On the server front, Intel will deliver processors in the first half of 1998, code-named Deschutes, in a Slot 2 implementation. The processors will also reach 450MHz by the end of 1998, and some models will have a whopping 2Mb of L2 cache. Today, Intel's only server offering, the Pentium Pro, has 1Mb of L2 cache.

Servers based on Slot 2 designs will also scale to eight processors, and supporting chip sets, such as the forthcoming 450NX, will support up to 8Gb of main memory, multiple PCI channels and intelligent I/O.

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