RealTime IT News

New Intel Pentium Has a Split Personality

Intel Thursday released its fastest (and most expensive) Pentium processor to date, which it hopes will breathe new life into home and business PC sales.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant's latest P4 runs at a whopping 3.06 GHz and includes its multithreaded "Hyper-Threading" technology, which it debuted in its Xeon processors for servers earlier this year. Prior to the new Pentiums, the fastest P4 ran at a top speed of 2.8GHz.

The new chips will identified with a "HT" insignia on the Pentium 4 processor logo to differentiate them from other Pentiums.

Already, PC makers like Dell Computer , Hewlett-Packard and Gateway have announced support for the new chips. Prices for the Hyper-Threading-enhanced computers are expected to range between $1,200 and $3,000.

"I don't know if any one chip can change the market. I think what you can do is create trends and this is the beginning of a trend," said Intel president and COO Paul Otellini.

The chips were designed at Intel's Hillsboro, Oregon campus and manufactured with 0.13-micron technology. The idea for Hyper-Threading was the brainchild of Intel senior engineer Glenn Hinton back in 1993. The company has begun filtering in the multithreading designs into its Pentium 4 processors as early as 1996.

Systems based on the new 3.06 Pentium 4 are available now. Intel said it is also shipping boxed P4 HT processors to its authorized distributors for system integrators. The chips sell for $637 in 1000-unit quantities. The 2.8GHz P4s recently dropped in price.

Intel says Hyper-Threading allows operating systems and applications to view a single physical processor as if it were two processors. The company says it's similar to watching television while talking on the phone. Intel says that can increase performance of an application by 30 percent.

"Just as people multitask to get more done, we expect our PCs to do the same," said Intel Desktop Platforms Group vice president and general manager Louis Burns.

And doing more than one thing at a time is what most PCs seem to be doing these days. According to Intel's numbers, more than 75 percent of computer users say they multitask on a regular basis. The hottest trend, say researchers at Harris Interactive, is playing a PC game while burning a CD. At least half of the PC users surveyed said they wouldn't attempt to do both of those activities on a machine that is three or more years old.

For business users, Intel said the new Pentiums could help improve productivity. Because Hyper-Threading allows for several things to run at the same time, the company said background applications such as continuous virus scanning, encryption, or compression can be run without clogging the desktop. For example, Intel claims compressing an Outlook folder while running WinZip is 35 percent faster with the new technology and the ever CPU-intensive Adobe Photoshop can run 21 percent faster while running a McAfee virus scan.

Intel said the new chip will also be helpful for emerging technologies like Web services and operating systems that are designed to multi-task such as Microsoft WindowsXP or Linux.

Rival chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices AMD is also working on a similar multithreading design to incorporate in its Hammer-based series of Athlon XP processors. But the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker has yet to get its product out of the gate, while Intel is already halfway down the track.