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Surprise: Intel demos 1.5GHz processor

Intel announces new details of its high-end Willamette processor, including a 1.5GHz version, and low-end Timna chips

Intel surprised the computer industry on Tuesday when it demonstrated its future Pentium chip running at 1.5GHz. The processor manufacturer, looking to recapture the speed crown from its chief rival AMD, also announced that it plans to ship 1GHz chips by the third quarter of the year. The announcement was made at the company's Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs, California, and was accompanied by a demonstration of two processors running at 1GHz.

At the same time, Intel unveiled more details on its forthcoming Timna chip for low-end PCs.

"Just a year ago we were able to demonstrate the first Pentium III breaking the 1GHz barrier. Now, for the first time, we have a production-ready system," said senior vice president, Albert Yu. He added that Intel will begin shipping limited numbers of the 1GHz Pentium III chip "shortly".

Intel's first demonstration was conducted using a specially cooled Pentium III. In this latest demonstration, Pentium III systems from Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM were onstage, indicating these companies would be ready with 1GHz machines when the chip ships.

While Intel will hit 1GHz with its Pentium III chip, the company's planned follow-on processor will be even faster. Yu demonstrated the new chip, named after the Willamette River in Oregon, running at speeds of up to 1.5GHz.

However, Yu stressed that the demonstration was based on "first silicon" -- the very first samples of the chip.

With the demonstrations, the clock speed of Intel's chips has more than doubled since last summer. Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Products Group, said this level of performance roughly doubles that of the 533MHz Pentium III chip. He added that it would have particular relevance for users running Windows 2000 as well as new Internet protocols, such as extensible markup language or XML.

"XML is going to be critical," he said. "Does XML require performance? Yes it does."

Many analysts will be skeptical of Yu's claims of volume availability of 1GHz chips by the third quarter. However, he said the company will increase its manufacturing capacity in order to have six manufacturing plants, known as fabs, up and running on its 0.18-micron manufacturing process. This is two fabs in addition to the four Intel currently has up and running on 0.18-micron.

Intel has not yet said how fast Willamette will be at introduction, but the chip was demonstrated starting at about 1.4GHz. It was demonstrated for the first time publicly at the developer forum, and is a brand new 32-bit design that will eventually replace the Pentium III's current P6 processor core design.

"We're going to drive this product into the performance mainstream of the desktop market," Yu said. "We will be shipping hundreds of thousands of units by the end of the year."

Willamette will require a new chipset. The chipset, code-named Tehama, will support a 400MHz system bus and dual-channel RDRAM memory. RDRAM, or Rambus memory, is a new, high-performance memory technology now being implemented by Intel in high-end PCs. The bus, which provides a data pipeline between the chip and other system components, is similar in design to the current Pentium III bus. It will be able to transfer up to 3.2GB of data per second. Willamette will also include a new instruction set, known as single-instruction multiple data, or SIMD2. SIMD instruction sets allow data to be processed in parallel.

So, Intel will offer faster chips, but it is has also manufactured a processor designed from the ground up for the sub-$600 (£375) PC market. Codenamed Timna, it will achieve lower cost through integration of various technologies and combine a processor with a graphics engine and memory controller, thus allowing PC makers to eliminate extra components, such as graphics boards and memory controller chips. Timna is expected to ship in the second half of the year.

While Intel is shooting for speeds of 1GHz and higher, it will be a while before it reaches that speed limit. A 900MHz Pentium III chip is expected early in the second half of the year, and an 866MHz chip should ship between now and the end of the first half.

The company will also transition its Celeron processor to the 0.18-micron manufacturing process by the end of the second quarter, said Yu. In the same time period, Celeron will hit 600MHz, and 700MHz and faster in the second half.

Intel is also working with Microsoft and Sony to ensure connectivity between PCs and consumer electronics devices using Microsoft's universal Plug and Play protocol. PCs will also be able to support Sony's Memory Stick technology in future.

In addition, new PC designs, including one that fits in the palm of a hand, were shown during the keynote. Intel also demonstrated Universal Serial Bus 2.0, a new USB interface that is up to 40 times faster than the present USB 1.1.

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

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