Intel reaches 1GHz mark

The chip race heats up again: Intel has hit the 1GHz marker, launching a new chip that will ship this week
Written by John G.Spooner on

Intel on Wednesday broke the gigahertz barrier with a 1GHz, or 1,000MHz, Pentium III chip. What a difference a couple of days makes -- AMD announced its 1GHz Athlon processor on Monday.

The two processor rivals have been locked in a clock speed battle since 9 August, when AMD announced its Athlon processor at speeds of up to 650MHz. The chip has since been able to consistently outpace Intel's Pentium III in what has become a race of clock speed one-upmanship to the landmark 1GHz speed.

The 1GHz Pentium III processor will cost $990 (£613) in 1,000-unit quantities, making it significantly less expensive than AMD's $1,299 (£805) 1GHz Athlon chip. The new Pentium III, which uses a 133MHz system bus, is available now in limited quantities, Intel officials said.

Intel, which is fighting back with the Wednesday announcement, will be joined by Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM announcing systems with the new 1GHz Pentium III.

For consumers, the introduction of the fast new chips means powerful desktops that render graphics for games or graphical design applications very quickly. For the majority of consumers, however, gigahertz chips will have limited appeal at first, due to high prices. For them, reaching the gigahertz mark will mean more powerful, lower priced chips for midrange PCs as Intel and AMD cut prices on their older chips to make room for the newer, faster offerings. This is where the majority of the word processing, Web browsing public will gain the most benefit. As higher-clock speed processors are introduced, chip makers reduce the price of the speediest chips they're currently manufacturing. This allows consumers to purchase more megahertz for their money.

Consumers seeking a faster machine benefit from the competition between Intel and AMD because they will be able to purchase their 1GHz PCs much sooner than originally expected. Previously, 1GHz chips weren't due until the second half of this year.

Dell will begin taking orders on Wednesday for its Special Edition Dell Dimension, a high-end PC that it will sell in limited quantities with the Intel 1GHz chip. The desktop will be pricey at $5,999 (£3,719). However, Dell feels it will appeal to certain consumers because of a load of high-end equipment. "We're adapting our offer at the high end for the customer who wants to have the PC equivalent of a Porsche Boxter," said Ron Van Dell, general manager for the Dimension Product Group. "This is a showcase. It's not something we think people are going to buy thousands per day of."

The PC will come with the 1GHz Pentium III, 256MB of Rambus Direct RAM, a 30GB hard drive, an NVIDIA GeForce video card with 64MB of DDR memory, a 12-speed DVD-ROM drive and an eight-speed CD-RW drive. The PC will also include a 19in monitor.

With this equipment, Van Dell says the PC will "smoke every benchmark".

Dell will offer the Special Edition "until (the 1GHz Pentium III) gets to the point where it is mainstream," Van Dell said.

Lead times on the system, which is admittedly a low-volume product, are expected to be about 10 days.

HP is expected to announce a Pavilion PC based on the 1GHz Pentium III chip, while IBM will probably offer a new Aptiva desktop with the chip.

Meanwhile, Gateway on Monday began taking orders for its 1GHz Athlon-based Gateway Select systems. Compaq Computer will start taking orders on 1GHz Athlon-based 5900Z Presario PCs on Thursday. The PCs are priced starting at $2,999 and $2,499 (£1,859 and £1,549), respectively. It will be a race to see which customers receive their PCs first.

At the high price points that PC makers will fetch for new systems with the 1GHz Pentium III, will availability be enough? Intel says it will have "limited" supply of gigahertz Pentium IIIs out in the second quarter, with volume coming in the third quarter. "We will target 1GHz in the first half to people that can really appreciate it, such as PC enthusiasts like high-end gamers," said Intel spokesman George Alfs last week. "It really will be limited volume in Q2."

This means PC makers that cater to those market segments will have access to the gigahertz chip first.

While 1GHz Pentium IIIs will be available in systems, they may not be in other ways, such as in the reseller channel as boxed processors, sources said last week.

While Intel skipped from 800MHz to 1GHz, the company has plans to fill in the gap. It is planning to announce its 850MHz and 866MHz Pentium III chips in the latter half of this month, sources said. A 933MHz Pentium III will follow. However, Intel officials declined to comment on specific launch dates for these chips.

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.

For full coverage, see 1GHz: The whole story.

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