Is Intel worth the wait?

AMD Athlon-based 1GHz machines look to become easily available in Europe, yet 'Intel Inside' will be scarce for weeks or even months
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

While UK-based manufacturers working with chip maker, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) are rushing to introduce machines based on the new 1,000MHz (1GHz) Athlon microprocessors, those relying on Pentium III equivalents will have to wait weeks, or even months, to join the gigahertz revolution.

Ongoing supply problems have been downplayed by Intel, but the end result, it seems, is that the company's European partners will have to watch and wait as their Athlon-powered competitors ship 1GHz PCs to customers.

The super-fast chips have been seen as a significant PR victory for AMD, which announced its gigahertz processors two days before Intel. AMD also seems to have had a considerably easier time supplying them to its customers. Intel, on the other hand, seems to have swapped roles with AMD, which historically has had the technology, but not the volume. It is Intel that continues to suffer shortages of its fastest processors? The dominant chip maker announced on Monday the release of 850MHz and 866MHz Pentium IIIs, which, unlike the gigahertz chips, are being made immediately available to manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere.

In the UK, Gateway will probably be the first to ship a 1GHz system based on Athlon technology -- its Select1000 system is due to ship this week for arrival on Friday. AMD partner Evesham.com plans to launch a 1GHz chip on 3 April, and Mesh is also planning to launch a system at the beginning of April.

In stark contrast, Intel has left US-based manufacturers the option of sending part of their US allotment of 1 GHz chips to Europe, but so far only Dell has announced plans to do so, with a UK launch tentatively scheduled for April.

Intel's European partners are facing what the company calls a "ramp" in production, with 1GHz Pentium IIIs set to be available worldwide in full quantities sometime in June. So while partners such as Tiny are planning an imminent "launch" of gigahertz systems, the company is forced to admit that they won't be available to ship until Intel supplies them with more processors.

So has Intel left its European partners in the lurch? UK manufacturers seemed eager to downplay the importance of the 1GHz drought, pointing out that the new processors aren't exactly about to fly off the shelves. "I think [Intel is] pressed because the competition is putting them under a lot of pressure," said Chris Bakolas, technical director of Dan. "But whether the competition will sell an awful lot of those units is questionable."

Bakolas said the equation is simple: It has to weigh the inconvenience of waiting for Intel to catch up to its much smaller rival against the marketing value of offering Intel Inside. "It does create an issue, and people might ask why you don't have the product," he said. "But if you want to stick with Intel, you have to run at their pace."

He said Dan would not consider using AMD chips unless he felt he was losing business by not having them -- and he doesn't feel the demand has reached that point yet.

And how much of the value of shipping ultra-fast machines is purely symbolic, after all? While Dan -- and Intel, for that matter -- downplay the size of the European high-end market, other manufacturers say that market is significant. "There absolutely is a European market for [the latest processors]," said Steve Duignan, Dell's UK desktop manager for home and small business. "When we bring out a new processor, we see an immediate bump in terms of interest on the phones... people ring in every time a new processor comes out."

Intel reiterated that it will continue to focus its limited 1GHz Pentium III supplies on the US market, leaving Europe and other regions with a trickle -- for now. "It will be a ramp from now to Q3, when we will have high volume worldwide," said an Intel representative.

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

Intel is suffering from what we might call Microsoft Syndrome, the symptoms are rampant and unnecessary paranoia, read the news comment at AnchorDesk UK with Peter Jackson.

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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