June 4, 2004 4:22 PM PDT

Intel plans processor party for June

Intel is already making its back-to-school plans. The chipmaker will deliver a host of new processors later this month, designed to create higher-performing and also more entertaining desktop PCs.

The company will launch its Intel 915 Express and Intel 925 Express chipsets along with nine new Pentium 4 and Celeron processors. Chipsets, a collection of chips that assist in shuttling data to and from the processor and controlling input/output, are similar to a central nervous system. PCs using the 900 family chipsets and the Pentium 4s are scheduled go on sale the weekend of June 19. The Celerons will come out a few days later, sources familiar with Intel's plans said.

Together, the chipsets and processors, which the sources said will include a new Pentium 4 560 running at 3.6GHz, will generate a variety of new desktop PCs that will offer greater performance than today's desktops and some new capabilities as well, including the option for a built-in wireless access point, dubbed Intel Wireless Connect Technology.

PCs that take on traditional forms, such as desktop tower systems, will arrive first, for general purpose computing or gaming. PC makers such as Dell, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard are expected to announce new desktops along with, or shortly after, the chipset's official June 21 debut. PCs based on the chipsets will start off at the top-end of the market, meaning they could cost $1,200 or more.

As previously reported, 900 series chipsets, including the 915P and the 925X for game PCs, feature a number of new features, designed to increase desktops' performance. Those features include:

• DDR2 memory, a speedier yet less power hungry successor to today's standard DDR SDRAM (double data rate, synchronous dynamic RAM).

• PCI Express, a higher-bandwidth interface for add-in cards, which will serve to replace the graphics card port at first.

• Beefier graphics. One version of the 915 Express, the 915G, incorporates the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900, an improved graphics engine Intel says can now handle video games.

Intel updates its chipsets regularly, usually delivering a new family once per year. But this time around, it has reversed the traditional role of its chips. Typically, Pentium processors get the glory and the marketing hype. This time, analysts say, the 900 chipset family is the star.

The 900 chipset family "basically encompasses the highest number of significant technology changes in one chipset that Intel's had in at least five years," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research. "You're getting significant improvements on every interface in the system. Basically, it offers a better experience" for the buyer.

Indeed, Intel is expected to market the 900 family of chipsets as a foundation for more than just traditional desktops. The chipmaker has been working to bring to market so-called entertainment PCs for distributing video and pictures, and more stylish lifestyle PCs for more traditional computing tasks, both based on the chipsets.

This work comes as Intel has been moving to increase its involvement in overall PC design. The company has long been involved in releasing new technology and in setting industry standards. It helped push PCI Express, for example. Now it has adopted a more product-oriented design and marketing approach, with the aim of helping create new categories of products within the PC industry, and thus new homes for its chips.

Intel has said that entertainment PCs will be designed for the living room and will operate by remote control. They'll also include TV tuners and personal video recording capabilities. Meanwhile, lifestyle PCs will be more stylish, probably incorporating flat-panel displays. HP and Gateway will deliver entertainment PCs, for example. Dell has also said it's evaluating the PC category.

Take a number
The 900-series chipset launch also coincides with the ongoing introduction of Intel's new processor numbering scheme.

The processor number is designed to help consumers distinguish between two or three similar Pentium or Celeron processors. It also signals a major shift for the chipmaker, which is moving away from the practice of touting speed after years of marketing chips by focusing on gigahertz.

Intel will debut a new 775-pin socket for attaching its processors to the motherboard or main circuit board in PCs, along with the new chipsets. The new socket will prompt Intel's first batch of five numbered desktop Pentium 4 chips. It will release a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 520, a 3GHz Pentium 4 530, a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 540, a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 550, along with the 3.6GHz Pentium 4 560. The chipmaker is also expected to add a 775-pin, 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor. Extreme Edition chips will take on processor numbers in the 700s later this year.

Intel is expected to pump out its first 90-nanometer Celeron chips the week of June 21. Three Celeron D chips ranging in speed from 2.53GHz to 2.8GHz with processor numbers between 325 and 335 will come out then, sources familiar with Intel's plans said.

Later, Intel is expected to release its first 64-bit capable Pentium 4. The chip, aimed at workstations and servers, will come out in July. Their 64-bit extensions mirror those of Intel's first 64-bit capable Xeon server chips, which are due this month.

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Intel shouldn't Gamble so much
While the new 900 chipsets will bring to the desktop market new innovations like the mentioned PCI-Express and DDR2 the adoption of these techonolgies has been slow at best. Companies like Corsair Micro have already begun producing DDR2 and it is already available to the mass market through several online stores. Still for a user, be it a power-user or casual desktop PC user, to make the move from DDR to DDR2 the benefits would have to much greater than they currently are. Currently DDR2 is far more expensive than normal DDR and while DDR2 begins at the top speeds DDR left off at it is a slower chip. All current DDR2's memory timings are much worse than the current DDR so in reality in currently offers absolutely no performance gain at a higher cost. It does not take a person of great intelligence to realize that such a move is currently not the brightest nor best of ideas.

PCI-Express technology has been around for awhile and is often used in servers running SCSI Disk arrays. However, this technology is planned to fill the role of the AGP port in modern desktop computers. The benefits of PCI-Express are numerous and I am infact suprised it has taken this long for it to move its way into the mainstream desktop market.

In the realm of 64-Bit processors for the Desktop market Intel is now playing catch-up with AMD. The current AMD64 chips are by far the fastest desktop processors I have ever used, this mainly due to the on-die memory controller which runs at the same speed as the chip. AMD is set to, or probably already has released its new socket 939 processor line which is set to replace the AMD 64FX line. This new socket will allow for cheaper four layer motherboards, an increased HyperTransport frontside bus from 1.6ghz to 2ghz and the AMD64 Family(non-fx) will be able to support dual-channel memory with the new socket. Also the FX models will now be able to support unbuffered DDR, which means users will now be able to use regular desktop memory rather than the more expensive, rarer, registered server oriented dimms. Not to mention the simple the fact that AMD's 64 line is "The Only Windows 64-bit compatible processor".

This, rightly, leads users to believe that their brand new top of the line Intel P4 system will not be able to run the next verision as it is only a 32bit processor, though be it a fast one. Sources have been reported as saying the next verision of the Windows Operating System will be 64bit, and users will have to upgrade. So currently if you want a top of the line system with no fear of future compatability your only current choice is AMD.

If Intel does not release a 64 bit processor for the mainstream market soon it may be too late.
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