Intel preparing megahertz megablitz

Intel is preparing to pump out a serious amount of megahertz over the next two months.
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor

By the end of October, Intel will have introduced more than 13 new Pentium III chips for desktop and mobile PCs as well as workstations and servers, sources said. Industry watchers could not recall any company releasing as many chips in such a short time.

The chip barrage will actually begin in late September, when Intel's 820 chip set for high-performance desktop PCs is rolled out. The long-awaited product offers a faster system bus, support for 4X accelerated graphics support and high-bandwidth Rambus Dynamic RAM.

Intel will disclose many more details on the chip set at this week's Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs, California. The company is expected to give attendees updates on the IA-64 64-bit processor architecture, inroads in the network processor market with StrongARM-based processors, and PC design guides and initiatives, such as Easy PC.

The 820 chip set, Intel is expected to announce, will also support two bus speeds, 100MHz and 133MHz, sources said. Intel's current mainstream desktop chipset, the 440BX, supports a 100MHz bus, sources said. What moving to the 133MHz bus will mean to users is faster overall system performance, as the pipeline between the processor and system components, such as memory, will allow more data to move back and forth per second.

The chip set may also offer a productivity boost, because it supports multithreading. This would offer users an advantage when the chip set is paired with Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 2000 operating system. With the combination, users will be able to print or synchronise a handheld device in the background while they performed another task.

The 820 chip set will debut, along with two new Pentium III processors (at 533MHz and 600MHz), on 27 September, sources said. The chips, which support the 133MHz bus, will be based on the current .25 micron Pentium III design. Intel is planning to follow those Pentium IIIs quickly with the 25 October launch of six new desktop Pentium III processors, based on its Coppermine technology. Coppermine is the code-name for Pentium III chips manufactured on Intel's 0.18 micron process. The new manufacturing process will help Intel reduce the Coppermine Pentium III's voltage consumption and heat production, vs. current .25 micron Pentium IIIs. It will also lead to smaller die-size, allowing the integration of 256KB of integrated cache with desktop Pentium III chips. Mobile Pentium II chips already offer this feature.

Of the six new Coppermine-based desktop Pentium III chips, all are designed for use with the 820 chip set, and three -- including a 500MHz, a 550MHz and a 600MHz -- will be for use with a 100MHz bus, sources said. Three more -- a 600MHz, a 650MHz and a 667MHz -- will support either a 100MHz or 133MHz bus. Intel may release a 700MHz in place of the 667MHz, sources said, but this was unclear at press time.

With all of these chips on the market at the same time, there is likely to be some confusion as to what technology each chip is based on and what chip set it works with. Intel will likely use a designation such as a letter in the chip name to help OEMs and customers distinguish between the chips. While Intel had planned to achieve parity between desktop and notebook performance with Coppermine, development glitches with the Coppermine design have kept that goal from being achieved so far. But Intel will also launch on 25 October three new mobile Pentium III chips.

The new mobile Pentium IIIs will be a 400MHz, a 450MHz and a 500MHz, sources said. Along with the new chips, Intel will help improve notebook performance by finally moving them to a 100MHz bus, sources said. Intel-based notebooks, based on Celeron and Pentium II chips, now have a 66MHz bus. Celeron notebooks will continue to sport that bus.

Intel will not ship a mobile Pentium III chip with its Geyserville technology until the first quarter of 2000. That chip, a 600MHz mobile Pentium III, will vary its clock speed, depending on whether it is plugged in and running on AC power or if it is on battery power. When a notebook is running on battery power, Geyserville reduces the chip's clock speed, which reduces the amount of power it consumes and leads to longer battery life. A 650MHz mobile Pentium III with Geyserville technology is expected in the first quarter, with a 700MHz version of the mobile chip following in the second quarter of next year, sources said.

On 25 October Intel is also expected to introduce new Pentium III Xeon chips, based on Coppermine. They are expected to arrive at 600MHz and at 667MHz clock speeds, sources said.

With the introduction of the new Pentium III chips, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) may lose its speed crown. The company earlier this month introduced its new Athlon processor, which runs at clock speeds of up to 650MHz. But AMD might not give up that title for long. The chipmaker will release a 700MHz version of the chip in the fourth quarter, according to officials at the company.

AMD plans to move its Athlon, which is currently on a .25 micron manufacturing process, to a 0.18 micron manufacturing process in 2000, which will help raise Athlon performance well past 700MHz.

Intel officials would not comment on unannounced products.

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