July 9, 2003 1:30 PM PDT
Chip details leak out of Intel
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker is gearing up for a busy second half of the year with a slew of new chips and price cuts, according to an Intel presentation forwarded to CNET News.com as well as industry sources. Details about future server chips also came out.
Competitors Advanced Micro Devices and Apple Computer will also tout new high-end products in the second half, creating an atmosphere similar to the end of 1999 when AMD and Intel loudly proclaimed the virtues of new, highly competitive chips.
"Come fall, the market for processors will start to get pretty interesting," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.
Intel declined to comment.
Prescott, which will come out in the fourth quarter, will contain a number of enhancements over the current Pentium 4, including new instructions for multimedia processing and a 1MB cache, a pool of memory on the chip for fast data access. Current Pentium 4s have a 512KB cache.
The chip is slated come out at 3.4GHz, according to the sources, and then speed up to 3.6GHz in the first quarter of 2004. It is unclear whether the chip will be sold as a Pentium 4 or be renamed, but history indicates that the architectural changes would justify a new brand name.
Prescott is expected to cost $637 in volume quantities. Although a release date was not specified, Intel plans to cut the prices on its other processors on Oct. 26 by up to 35 percent, the first Pentium 4 price cuts since June. Typically, price cuts and chip releases occur at about the same time.
Although the chip speeds won't likely change, the final prices are more subject to fluctuations.
In the Celeron line, Intel will ready a 2.7GHz chip in the second half and cut prices on the rest of the line on Aug. 24.
Intel's notebook lineup, meanwhile, will see a greater number of changes. A new Pentium M, the processor found in Centrino notebooks, will come out in the third quarter running at 1.7GHz. This chip will contain 1MB of cache.
Dothan, the code-name for the next Pentium M, will be released in the fourth quarter, expected at $637. Dothan will differ from existing Pentium Ms in that it will be made on the 90-nanometer manufacturing process. (Pentium Ms are made on the 130-nanometer process, meaning that the average size of features on the chip measures 130 nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.)
Advancing the manufacturing process means that Intel can add more transistors to the chip. As a result, the cache will double to 2MB. By comparison, Intel's top Xeon chip for servers has a 2MB cache and it sells for over $3,000. AMD's top server chip has a 1MB cache.
A large cache allows a computer to keep a substantial amount of data close to the processor. If the processor has to snag data out of memory, or the hard drive, performance dips. Rival AMD has chosen to use a smaller cache and ameliorate some of the data access problems in its latest chip through integrating the memory controller or including HyperTransport links. Still, a big cache generally helps speed things up.
Dothan is slated to speed up to 1.9GHz in the first quarter of 2004 and 2GHz in the following quarter.
Low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage versions of Dothan for even better battery life will emerge at the same time. In the fourth quarter, a 1.2GHz low-voltage Dothan is expected be released followed by a 1.3GHz and a 1GHz ultra-low-voltage version in the first quarter.
Celeron chips for the mobile market will also get a cache and speed boost. Mobile Celerons now have a 256KB cache and a 133MHz system bus, the path that connects the processor to memory.
In the first quarter of 2004, Intel will debut a 1.3GHz mobile Celeron with a 400MHz bus and a 512KB of cache, similar to specifications that, until recently, could be found on the fastest Pentium 4 desktop chips. An 800MHz ultra-low-voltage Celeron will also come out at the same time. Speed bumps to both of these chips will follow in the second quarter.
Similarly, the company is expected to increase the speed of the Pentium 4 chips used in notebooks.
Kai Schmerer of ZDNet Germany reported from Munich. CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos reported from San Francisco.