Will Timna be a 'loss-leader'?

Analyst says Timna PCs unlikely to be 'widely popular'

Intel's Timna processor, aiming to revolutionise the value PC market with an ultra-integrated design, could end up nothing more than a marketing tool, according to comments from a leading analysis firm.

Timna will integrate such components as graphics support directly onto the processor die, making it much cheaper for Intel to manufacture than such low-cost chips as Celeron. However, because of memory and graphics performance observers have raised questions over how satisfactory the low-end chip will be even for beginner users.

These performance issues will mean Intel cannot hope to carve out a profitable niche with Timna, according to analysis firm Microprocessor Report. "We believe Timna's performance will force Intel to price the chip well below the combination of a Celeron processor of the same clock speed and an 815 chipset," said analyst Peter Glaskowsky in a new report. "This situation makes Timna a sort of 'loss-leader' solution -- the basis of machines that may be widely advertised but not widely popular."

Timna's performance bottlenecks largely come down to its main-memory subsystem and graphics control, according to Glaskowsky.

The chip has faced delays partly because Intel was forced to recall chipsets using a memory translator hub (MTH), a memory component designed to allow use of Rambus memory. The MTH had been designed for the 820 chipset and Intel had planned to use it with Timna.

Timna's replacement for MTH is a component called a memory protocol translator (MPT), but its design will mean Timna accesses memory more slowly than the Celeron chip, based on the 810 chipset.

Timna will also lack some graphics capabilities found in the 810 chipset, such as the 810's optional display cache, designed to improve 3D rendering. "Timna will thus offer 3D graphics performance comparable with that of the base-level 810 -- a level already unacceptable for current 3D games," Glaskowsky wrote.

The value chip will, however, include some features not in 810 or the mainstream 815 chipset: for example, Timna will support true trilinear texture filtering, highlights and exponential fogging calculations, according to Glaskowsky. The features are all available in the 3D chips frequently included with mainstream PCs, however, Glaskowsky said.

However, it is possible the chip will be more quickly adopted in mobile applications than on the desktop side at first because of its small size and low-power characteristics.

Timna will debut in desktop PCs in the first quarter of 2001, according to sources. The 700MHz mobile version of the chip will roll out in the second quarter of 2001, sources said.

Timna includes on the same chip a processor core, a graphics processing engine and the Intel I/O Controller Hub 2 (ICH2). The overall package, consisting of four chips, will be somewhat smaller than a stand-alone or discrete Celeron chip with Intel's 810 chipset. Timna will be about ten to 15 percent smaller, and will also consume less power. Timna will use 15.2 watts, sources said, compared with the 19.8 watts consumed by the Celeron/810 combination.

John G Spooner of ZDNet News US contributed to this report.

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