Feds await new Pentium

PC vendors anticipate a high level of government interest in the Pentium III processor, which Intel Corp. launched last week in a media blitz that promises desktop users clock speeds of up to 550 MHz and more agile delivery of video and other multimedia files.

Agencies involved in video-intensive applications already claim requirements for the souped-up Pentium III, but others see it as offering more speed than they need. PCs based on the chip will cost about $2,000 and will ship in March. They are expected to appear soon after that on the General Services Administration schedule.

Intel previewed the Pentium III at a day-long event last week in San Jose, Calif., but the 450 MHz and 500 MHz Pentium III processors will not officially be released until this Friday. Intel said a 550 MHz Pentium III could be on the market as early as the second quarter of 1999.

Intel hopes the promotional campaign it began last week will squelch controversy over a new security feature in the Pentium III that enables the tracking of users' paths on the Internet. The controversy, however, is focused on home users rather than large organizations, which see benefits in the tracking feature (see sidebar on www.fcw.com).

To support advanced multimedia calculations, the Pentium III uses MMX technology from its predecessor, the Pentium II processor, as well as 70 new "instructions" that are designed to speed performance of digital imaging, 3-D graphics processing, and streaming audio and video.

The Pentium III's enhanced multimedia performance is expected to be useful in several government videoconferencing projects, including computer-based training programs run by the Army and the Air Force.

Pentium III systems will play a role in the $75 million Army Video Teleconferencing-1 contracts awarded to Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Lucent Technologies Inc. in October by the Army Small Computer Program, said Thomas Leahy, product leader in new acquisitions development for the Army Small Computer Program, Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Another outlet for the chip will be in the PCs running the Army Training and Doctrine Command's Total Army Distance Learning Program, which was begun nearly three years ago to reduce the cost of sending instructors to remote locations to teach, Leahy said.

"We'll need to have a level of technology to do [video teleconferencing] - and the latest and greatest, if affordable," Leahy said.

In addition to the multimedia enhancements, speed appears to be the most attractive feature of the new chip for government buyers.

"The 500 MHz [version of the Pentium III] will pick up and become a very hot item for the government," predicted Mark Thoreson, inside sales manager at reseller Government Technology Services Inc. "I call it the Porsche syndrome. Everybody wants a Porsche. They don't want to have to drive a Ford."

Speed is "pre-eminent when you're talking about new processor releases," said Phil Kennett, vice president of federal sales for Gateway Inc. Processor speed "is constantly being pushed by software development."

Jake Schlumpf, director of government, education and medical product management for Compaq Computer Corp., said the Pentium III is hitting the market just as a critical mass of users gains access to unprecedented amounts of information, including multimedia content. "The reason these chips are being made is in response to what customers are sending over the network,'' Schlumpf said.

But not all federal IT sales executives are that enthusiastic. Alan Bechara, vice president and chief operating officer of Comark Federal Systems, said the Pentium III "has nominal improvements over the previous product that don't seem to warrant all the hoopla.''

--Joshua Dean contributed to this article.

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