Vendors unleash 150, 166 MHz Pentiums

Intel Corp. turned the performance crank a couple of notches higher, announcing earlier this month faster 150 MHz and 166 MHz versions of its speedy Pentium processor. Many vendors have announced new models using the chip, while others say they plan to do so in the near future.

Dell Computer Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. all announced new models, and Compaq Computer Corp. will unveil its faster models soon. The machines are expected to appeal to high-end and technical federal buyers, although potential customers are now hampered by the budget impasse.

"I think there will be a tremendous amount of interest [in the new machines]," said Gary Newgaard, Compaq's federal sales manager.

"The government buyer is a pretty high-end buyer," Newgaard added. "They typically buy the higher-end processor." The reason could be that the federal government is often slow to replace PCs. "More than likely, these people think they are going to be stuck with them for a long time," he said.

But those high-end buyers may represent only a portion of federal customers, said Gilbert Gautereaux, vice president of marketing for AmeriData Federal Systems. "I think there is going to be the same amount of interest as we have seen in 120 MHz Pentiums from people who want the latest and greatest," he said.

"It is a small percentage of the market that has high-end technical requirements," Gautereaux said. "I don't think that mainstream administrative people will be going in this direction."

But the Pentium chip is now getting fast enough to legitimately challenge some reduced instruction-set computing-based (RISC) Unix workstations for technical work, Gautereaux said. "I think there will be some people taking a look at it."

"I feel that we are going to pull back some on our RISC-based development," said Jeff Bell, director of product sales at BTG Inc. BTG manufactures workstations based on Digital Equipment Corp.'s Alpha RISC chip.

"There are [vendors] who have the 180 MHz and 200 MHz Pentium chips now," Bell said.

Performance Numbers

Intel has tested systems powered by the 150 MHz and 166 MHz chips running the same Business Application Performance Corp. SYSmark95 benchmark used by FCW's Test Center.

The Intel-built PCs turned in fantastic performance numbers. The 150 MHz Pentium scored a 514.0, and the 166 MHz scored a 554.1.

FCW Test Center tests, however, indicate that Intel's results may be somewhat higher than what users would typically encounter. In the most recent FCW Test Center tests, the fastest 133 MHz Pentium PC, the Dunn Computer Corp. Pentium 133, scored a 431.65 on SYSmark95. The median score of the 11 machines tested was about 400.

Intel, meanwhile, claims a score of 481.6 for a 133 MHz system.

If the fastest PCs score about 90 percent of Intel's performance score, and the average machine is 83 percent as fast, then the fastest 150 MHz machine would be expected to post a 462, and an average one would score a 427. At 166 MHz, the top and average scores would be about 500 and 460. Accordingly, an NEC PowerMate 166 previewed by the FCW Test Center scored a 492.60 on the SYSmark95 benchmark.

Pricing

The Pentium 166 scores represent a significant improvement over the 133, but the 150 provides only an incremental difference.

Intel has priced the chips to reflect this difference. The 133 MHz chip costs $520, compared with $547 for a 133 MHz chip and $749 for a 166 MHz chip.

Intel predicts that the price of 166 MHz systems during the first half of 1996 will mirror the price of 133 MHz systems during the second half of last year. The 150 MHz systems will cost about what 120 MHz systems cost before the introduction of the new chips.

Both the 150 MHz chip and the 166 MHz version are built using the same .35-micron circuits as used in the 133 MHz chips, according to Intel.

The 75 MHz to 120 MHz chips use an older .6-micron design, and the original 60 MHz and 66 MHz chips were .8-micron circuits.

The Dell machines' commercial pricing starts at $2,650 for the 150 MHz OptiPlex GX and at $2,750 for the 166 MHz version. Both machines are available immediately on the open market, with General Services Administration schedule availability expected in February.

Digital announced models starting at $2,999 and $3,199, with immediate commercial availability.

Other vendors, such as HP, have announced new models but have not set prices because the new models will not be available until February.

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