RealTime IT News

Intel Clocks in With Fast Pentium 4 Chips

With the back-to-school computer buying season about to get underway, Intel Corp. Monday took the battle to rival AMD with the release of two new Intel Pentium 4 processors clocking in at 1.8 GHz and 1.6 GHz, respectively. The semiconductor giant also restated its intention to release a 2 GHz Pentium 4 this quarter.

Last week, at TECHXNY, Michael Splinter, Intel vice president and director of Worldwide Sales and Marketing, promised Intel will take the Pentium 4 beyond 2 GHz in the fourth quarter.

"These two new speeds enable a broader range of performance and price points for our customers," said Louis Burns, vice president and general manager, Intel Desktop Platforms Group. "Momentum continues to grow as customers and software vendors take advantage of Pentium 4 processor performance."

The Pentium 4 is built on Intel NetBurst Micro-architecture and the Intel 850 chipset. The 32-bit processor is designed to run at extremely high speeds, and is the first entirely new 32-bit chip architecture Intel has released since the Intel Pentium Pro processor was released in 1995. It features dual RDRAM memory banks and a 400 MHz system bus handling up to 3.2 gigabytes of data per second, according to the company. Both the 1.8 GHz and 1.6 GHz versions are manufactured on Intel's high-volume 0.18-micron process technology.

The company is no doubt counting on the new chips to stem the insurgent tide launched by AMD's Athlon chips, which have eaten into Intel's market share in past quarters.

Goldman Sachs & Co. remains bullish on the company, and last month suggested that its Pentium 4 chips may be just what the doctor ordered.

"Intel has priced its entire microprocessor line quite aggressively to reduce the premium to AMD and thereby recover share," GS' Terry Ragsdale wrote in research last month. "The high-end, 1.7 GHz Pentium 4 desktop microprocessor now lists at only $350, about half of Intel's typical high-end pricing, and consumers are finding that they can buy high-end, Intel-based PCs much cheaper than they expected.

"Second, Intel's embarrassment on the product roadmap front relative to AMD may be coming to an end. Lots of Intel's execution problems can be traced back to one decision: going with Rambus DRAM. Intel's introduction of an SDRAM- and DRR-compatible Pentium 4 chipset (Brookdale) in the second half will both bring that chapter to a close and eliminate the RDRAM cost premium. Also, remember that P4 was architected for clock speed. The PIII hit the wall last year at 1 GHz, leaving the high ground to AMD's Athlon, but P4 more than puts Intel back in the game. Granted, P4 under performs Athlon clock for clock, but P4 delivers more clock cycles than Athlon already (1.7 GHz vs. 1.33 GHz) and is likely to widen the gap over the next few quarters. Clock speed, not geeky performance benchmarks, sells in the consumer space."

Still, Intel faces an uphill battle, and a lot of things have to go right both within and without the company for Intel's picture to be rosy next year, according to Ragsdale. Within the company, Intel needs to successfully ramp the P4's clock speed and regain market share, it needs to successfully execute on the Brookdale chipset, and the introduction of its 0.13-micron process technology and 300mm wafers needs to go without a hitch. Outside the company, Ragsdale said Intel needs to see macroeconomic recovery, a recovery in the PC market, and U.S. corporate acceptance of Windows 2000 (and the resulting PC upgrades that go with it).

"Not impossible, mind you, but a burden," Ragsdale said.

The new 1.8 GHz Pentium 4 is available now, priced at $562 in 1,000-unit quantities. The 1.6 GHz version is priced at $294. Intel said it is also shipping boxed versions to Intel Premier Providers and Intel Product Dealers, enabling them to ship Pentium 4 processor-based systems immediately.