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'Willamette' heats up GHz race

The curtain is about to be lifted on Intel's upcoming 1GHz-plus processor, which will fuel home computers linked via broadband to the Web

The race to -- and past -- 1 gig heats up in two weeks.

That's when Intel will lure developers to Palm Springs, California, for some winter golf and the semiannual Intel Developer Forum, where the company will unveil the latest in its processor technology.

The highlights will include two new processor architectures along with a new -- yet familiar -- one, Itanium.

"Willamette," the code name for Intel's next-generation desktop processor, will headline the show and will offer clock speeds of "well in excess of 1GHz," says Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Products Group.

Gelsinger and Albert Yu, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Microprocessor Products Group, will give the keynote announcing the new chip.

Willamette is important to consumers because it represents the next step in processor technology from Intel. This is the chip that will power home computers that are linked, via a broadband connection, to the Web.

It should provide enough horsepower to handle high-frame-rate video streams and other multimedia applications that will be enabled by broadband.

Intel officials have been mum on other details, but the chip should be significant to consumers because it will replace Intel's Pentium III and bring 1GHz-plus speeds to the desktop by the end of the year. Intel's Pentium III chip will top out at about 1GHz in the second half of the year.

Willamette, however, is a brand-new 32-bit processor design, Intel's first such new design since introducing the Pentium Pro processor in late 1995. This core, referred to as the P6 core by Intel, has been the basis of every processor since then, including the Pentium III.

It is expected to be manufactured first using Intel's 0.18-micron process, as is also the case with the Itanium chip. Willamette is also expected to be a socketed chip, possibly for use with a 423-pin version of the current Intel 370-pin socket, sources said.

The chip, in addition, is expected to include Willamette Processor New Instructions -- a new set of single instruction, multiple data or SIMD multimedia instructions. These instructions are used to help enhance the processing of certain multimedia data, such as video.

Willamette will be supported by a new chip set, code-named Tehama, which will support Rambus Direct RAM with a high-performance bus, which will be faster than the current 133MHz bus used with Pentium III, sources said. The bus acts like a pipeline for moving data between the processor and system components, such as memory. The faster it is, the more data a processor can move, increasing overall system performance.

The chip, which will be demonstrated at the forum, will be available before year's end for high-end desktop PCs.

Intel will also discuss its forthcoming Timna chip.Timna, Intel's third new processor architecture, has been optimised to be very inexpensive. Timna will combine a Pentium processor core developed specifically for this low-cost market with a graphics engine and memory controller.

By combining these three functions into a single chip, Intel says it will lower PC makers' overall component costs and reduce the size of the motherboard needed for a Timna-based system, another cost-saving measure.

For Itanium, which has been widely discussed by Intel, the emphasis will be on software.

Intel has been working with developers, who need to port their software from 32-bit to 64-bit addressing in order to work with the server chip. Intel has said that systems using the Itanium will be available in the third quarter.

Also at the developers conference, Intel will disclose new design guides for PCs. Called PC2001, the design guides will incorporate, among other things, legacy-free elements. A legacy-free PC is one that has removed certain older components, such as the ISA bus, in favor of others.

Along with its new processor technologies and design guides, Intel will also introduce a number of new PC concepts at its developer form. The new concepts will be part of Intel's eHome and eBusiness exhibits. Intel uses these exhibits to show off concept PCs and appliances.

Not to be outdone, sources say that AMD will set up shop across town in Palm Springs to brief developers and press on its own latest efforts.

AMD's 850MHz Athlon processor is slated for a mid-February launch. Athlon chips, introduced last August, utilize a 200MHz bus.

While the Pentium III chip will reach 1GHz in the second half of the year, so will Athlon. AMD, which is currently sampling a 900MHz Athlon processor, will reach 1GHz with Athlon in the second half. AMD is planning to introduce three new processor cores, code-named Spitfire, Thunderbird and Mustang, to help Athlon toward and then well past the 1GHz mark.

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

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