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Intel to debut Celerons in March

Continuing a flood of new chip intros, Intel will roll out 566MHz and 600MHz Celerons -- and faster Pentium IIIs, too.

"Star Trek" star Patrick Stewart probably won't be on hand at this launch, but Intel is planning for the next generation of Celeron chips in March. The new chips, running at clock speeds of up to 600MHz, will give low-cost, or value PCs, a performance bump, but without raising prices. Consumers will be able to buy a 600MHz value PC for about $1,000 (£610) without a monitor following the launch.

The Celerons are scheduled to be announced March 29, sources said.

Sources say Intel's 850MHz and 866MHz Pentium III announcement will get the spotlight on March 20.

The 566MHz and 600MHz Celerons will debut with a number of improvements aimed at speeding performance. Those changes include moving Celeron from its current .25 micron manufacturing process to a 0.18 micron process, resulting in increased clock speed for the chip. Intel will also add the Intel SSE (single-instruction, multiple data extensions) multimedia instruction set, sources said.

With a 633MHz and a 667MHz Celerons planned for introduction in late April, according to sources, Intel appears to be making good on a promise made last January to aggressively introduce new Celerons chips into the value PC market. A 700MHz Celeron chip is likely to arrive by the end of the first half of this year, sources said.

The new Celerons will continue to include 128KB of integrated cache, which helps speed up performance, as well support for a 66MHz system bus, sources said. The bus provides a data pipeline between the chip and a PC's internal components, such as memory. It is the bus speed that more savvy PC users will notice. Since its speed contributes to the overall performance of a PC, many would have liked to have seen Intel make the jump to a 100MHz bus.

Intel sources maintained, however, that the company will eventually move to 100MHz for desktop Celeron chips. But to keep system costs low, don't expect it to happen soon, they said.

Intel's strategy for Celeron focuses on cost and megahertz. While the two chips will be based on the same technology, Intel's high-end processor brand, the Pentium III, will offer higher clock speed, larger amounts of cache and faster bus speeds.

The Pentium III will offer clock speeds of up to 866MHz, 256KB of integrated cache and support for a 100MHz or 133MHz system bus in March. However, systems containing the chip will also cost more. Performance is another point of differentiation. While new Celerons will be similar in look and feel to some Pentium IIIs, they will not be similar in performance.

Clock speed-to-clock speed comparisons show the Pentium III 600MHz with a 100MHz bus to be up to 30 percent faster than a 600MHz Celeron on certain benchmarks, sources said. Even an older Pentium III classic chip running at 600MHz with a 100MHz bus showed even 17 percent faster performance, sources said. The classic Pentium III is a .25 micron chip with 512KB of off chip cache.

That said, a 600MHz Celeron chip should provide more than enough performance for most consumers who wish to surf the Web, send e-mail or use applications such as word processors, analysts say.

The Celeron chip is also a favourite of overclockers, who purchase the chip and then raise its clockspeed through a number of tricks, such as increasing the speed of the system bus.

Though Celeron trails the Pentium III in performance, its more affordable price will make up the difference for some consumers. A Celeron system should cost several hundred dollars less than a Pentium III system with the same megahertz rating. Besides the difference in cost of the chip itself, Celeron systems will use lower-cost chip sets and smaller amounts of memory. Celeron systems should be available at prices of about $599, $799 and $999.

While Intel's plans are to ship new chips for low-cost PCs on an aggressive schedule, consumers shopping at retail have other options. Advanced Micro Devices, which last week shipped a 550MHz K6-2 for low-cost PCs, is readying a next-generation Celeron competitor of its own called K6-2+. The chip will also be 0.18 micron, with 128KB of integrated cache. It will be available shortly, AMD officials said. Shortly could be as soon as the end of March or early April.

AMD is also preparing a low-cost version of its Athlon chip for the value PC market. This yet-to-be-named chip will offer smaller amounts of integrated cache and a lower cost than the current processor. It will have a non-Athlon brand name, according to AMD.

Peter Jackson's analogy that skateboarders are merely frustrated surfers nowhere near the beach, begs the question -- what makes overclockers frustrated? Chip technology has three historical roots go with Peter to read the news comment at AnchorDesk UK.

ZDNet interviewed AMD chairman and CEO Jerry Sanders Monday. Bookmark ZDNet UK News to make sure you hear what he said.