Intel plans aggressive 'Willamette' intro

The eventual replacement for the Pentium is scheduled to come to market in the second half of the year
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor

Intel has one word for its roll-out plans for the company's next-generation desktop processor: aggressive.

Sources said Intel plans to quickly boost production of the chip, code-named Willamette, by rolling out three clock-speed versions in order to establish it in the mainstream of the desktop PC market in the first quarter of next year.

Intel officials have confirmed that the chip will debut at 1.4GHz in the second half of this year. However, Intel will also deliver chips at clock rates below that speed. Intel, sources said, plans to offer a 1.3GHz version, along with the 1.4GHz clock speed, starting in the fourth quarter.

Willamette is the first ground-up processor core design since Intel introduced the current "P6" processor core in its Pentium Pro processor in 1995. As such, the Willamette chip will be an important product for Intel as it continues the megahertz race with rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Willamette's design is tuned to achieve high megahertz ratings, Intel officials have said. As part of this plan, Intel will roll out Willamette chips in 100MHz increments. It will follow the 1.4GHz chip with a 1.5GHz chip in the first quarter of 2001, sources said.

This means the company will have three clock-speed variants of the chip available by the first quarter of 2001. By then, Intel expects the lower-speed Willamette chips will begin to penetrate the mainstream PC market.

In 2001 the company plans to move Willamette to a 0.13-micron manufacturing process, which will shrink the size of the chip by decreasing the distance between the transistors inside it. The current manufacturing process allows for 0.18-micron distances. This manufacturing move will allow Intel to garner additional clock speed gains and will also lower the power consumption of the chip so that Intel can use it as a mobile processor. Intel has said it will introduce copper interconnects -- tiny wires that connect transistors inside a chip -- with the move to 0.13.

Pentium III not dead, yet

Despite the company's plans to drive Willamette into the mainstream, Intel will likely not phase out the Pentium III chip for some time.

Intel needs to continue shipping the Pentium III for at least two reasons: cost and customer adoption. Willamette chips and the PCs they come in will be relatively expensive at first. Based on Intel's regular price moves, the Pentium III will be relatively inexpensive. It is safe to predict that even the company's 1GHz Pentium III will cost less than $500 (£325) by the second half of next year -- a boon to price-conscious consumers.

Many large corporate customers of PCs based on Intel chips will take time to evaluate Willamette before adopting the chip and its new chip set and system bus architectures.

While it has aggressive plans for Willamette, Intel is still working to deliver its high-end Pentium III chips in volume. The company has said its 1GHz Pentium III won't be widely available until the third quarter of this year. The chip isn't expected to move into mainstream use until the fourth quarter or early next year. The company jumped from 800MHz at the end of 1999 to 1GHz early in March. It skipped a few speed grades, however, shipping its 850MHz and 866MHz Pentium IIIs in late March.

Intel has yet to announce its 933MHz Pentium III. However, that chip will ship later this month, sources said.

Intel officials have said the company can turn the crank one or two more times to speed up Pentium III chips.

"I think you'll see us stretch at least one notch above 1GHz, maybe two," Intel Executive Vice President Paul Otellini told analysts last month in New York.

Those two speed grades would likely be 1066MHz and 1133MHz, based on the Pentium III's bus multiplier.

Now that the gigahertz barrier has been broken, what's next? Will anyone care when we pass 2GHz? Michael Caton thinks not. Go and read the news comment at AnchorDesk UK.

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