US Report: Intel draws a new roadmap for chips

Less than a week after announcing a six-month delay in Merced, its first 64-bit chip, Intel is redrawing its entire 32-bit roadmap - and the new directions are faster and earlier.

Intel officials said on Wednesday the delivery dates and clock speeds for chips, including Celeron, Pentium II Xeon, Katmai and Tanner, have all been accelerated.

The most significant changes involve Tanner, the code name of a 32-bit processor sources said was supposed to serve as a transition chip to Merced. Tanner was expected to fit into Slot M, the 64-bit PC motherboard slot that would also house Merced, starting users on their way to 64-bit computing.

An Intel spokeswoman said Tanner will not provide a migration path to Merced.

Tanner will be part of the Intel's Pentium II Xeon line, according to John Miner, vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Server Group at Intel. Intel officials said they will have a Merced migration strategy, but declined to provide specifics.

Also, Tanner would have debuted in mid-to-late 1999. Now, Tanner will appear in the first quarter of 1999. The 500 MHz chip will include "Katmai new instructions," the code name for Intel's forthcoming instruction set for 3D graphics, to be integrated onto the chip. It also will will no longer fit into Slot M, but instead will work with Intel's forthcoming Slot 2 bus.

The Slot 2 bus, available late this month, represents an advance over the current Slot 1 bus. The Slot 2 processors and chip sets support a full-speed backside bus and up to 2MB of Level 2 cache. Slot 2 processors will be used in high end workstations and servers, while Slot 1 processors will fit in low cost and volume-oriented desktop PC markets.

Intel officials said Merced's delay was not the reason for moving up delivery schedules. Instead, they pegged manufacturing efficiencies and subsequent improvements in volume yields for the roadmap changes.

Among Intel's other changes, the Katmai processors, originally expected in the second quarter of 1999, now will ship in the first quarter. Available only in Slot 1 designs, they will run at 450MHz and 500MHz.

The Celeron roadmap for low-cost PCs has also been altered, for the second time in as many months. In the fourth quarter, or one quarter earlier than expected, Intel will deliver 300MHz and 333MHz versions of Celeron with 128KB of integrated L2 cache.

Finally, the 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II processors, which were announced in mid-April, will move to volume production by July.

"We are repositioning the products for higher volume," said an Intel spokeswoman. Intel officials declined to discuss forward pricing, but sources said the price of 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II chips will drop to about $500 (£306)and $700 (£430) respectively as a result of this "repositioning."

PC makers, some of which had privately complained about the fluidity in Intel's roadmap, can probably expect pricing adjustments across the board, as Intel tries to avoid too much overlap in its product lines.

"The new roadmap cleans up a lot of ambiguity about the P6 architecture," said Carl Everett, a senior vice president at Dell and a former Intel executive. "This is a very positive thing."

Intel officials said the company will transition all of its processors: mobile, desktop, workstation and server, to the .25 micron manufacturing process by the end of the year.