Intel to boost Celeron bus

Bus boost may close the gap between Celeron and AMD Duron chips. But will it be enough?

Intel plans to give value PCs, using its Celeron processors, a performance boost.

The chip maker, sources tell ZDNet News, will move its value-oriented Celeron processor to a 100MHz system bus in the first half of next year. The move isn't unexpected, as Intel has done so already with mobile Celeron chips. However, the faster bus should offer a performance boost for value PCs using the upgraded chip. The current version of the chip only a 66MHz bus.

The boost won't come right away, though. Intel is looking to the 800MHz Celeron chip, due in the first quarter of next year, as the transition point to the faster 100MHz bus, sources said. However, it is still possible Intel may hold off until the 850MHz Celeron, slated for a second quarter launch, sources said.

Performance-minded PC buyers have been calling for Intel to raise the bus speed for some time. However, Intel officials maintain that most customers, consumers at large, are more concerned with overall system price and processor megahertz ratings than bus speeds. Upping the bus speed has become a marketing decision.

Meanwhile, Celeron will change very little between now and the Christmas buying season. Though Intel will offer more megahertz to value PC buyers, with 733MHz and 766MHz versions of the Celeron chip slated to ship later this quarter and next quarter, respectively. The highest volume Celeron-based PCs this holiday season will likely use 700MHz and faster chips.

Analysts agree that bus speed is not important to consumers.

"If it was, Intel wouldn't be at 66MHz anymore," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

However, he asks, "Should it be important? Yes." As the chips get faster "the more likely the system bus can't keep up with the processor," Feibus said.

However "I think they're going to do it when the parameters of consumer demand change and not a second sooner," he said.

Those parameters, due to competition from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), have changed, though. Based on recent tests, where AMD's new value chip outperformed the Celeron, the value chip from Intel could use a bus boost.

Recent tests conducted by PC Magazine showed that a system with a 700MHz Duron chip, AMD's value PC processor, bested a PC with a 700MHz Celeron chip by margins of as much as 34 percent on certain benchmarks.

Part of the Duron's performance advantage comes from a much wider, 200MHz bus. However, a chip's performance also comes from its cache. Processor caches feed data or instructions into the processor's core. The Celeron sports a larger 128KB Level 2 cache, versus Duron's 64KB Level 2. However, AMD points out that its chip has more total cache. The company provided Duron with a 128KB Level 1 cache while the Celeron's Level 1 cache is 32KB.

So far none of the major PC manufacturers shipping AMD Athlon chips, including Gateway and Compaq Computer, have begun offering Duron systems. However, that should soon change as the companies have, or will, announce plans to deliver Duron systems later this year.

"I think the [PC makers] are waiting on a platform. They don't have a chipset, yet," Feibus said.

The platform will come from VIA Technologies. VIA's low-cost Apollo KM133 chipset with integrated graphics, is expected to arrive later in the year. It should become the basis of these major PC makers' Duron PCs, set for release in time for the Christmas buying season.

"You'll see a big push in the retail channel in that time frame," said Martin Booth, a marketing director at AMD, in a recent interview with ZDNet News.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including an interactive timeline of AMD and Intel's upcoming product launches.

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