Speed to burn: Intel debuts new chips

Intel Corp. last week announced 15 processors based on a new generation of technology that increases speed, reduces power consumption and makes it possible for manufacturers to offer completely new classes of systems, even as they lower prices.

Computer manufacturers are ramping up to deliver server, desktop and mobile systems to take advantage of the new Pentium III processors, which are code-named Coppermine. The new processors run at speeds of up to 500 MHz in laptop computers and 733 MHz in desktops and servers.

But even more important, according to Intel, these processors are designed to support such applications as 3-D animation, advanced imaging, video streaming and speech recognition. These new applications benefit from the addition of 70 new instructions, which tell the processor how to handle information, and a new design for moving data between the processor and the rest of the system.

"[The processors] come at a time when user needs are getting increasingly sophisticated," said Paul Otellini, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Achitecture Business Group. "And increasingly...we have to look beyond megahertz."

System vendors in the federal market believe the announcement is an important one, beyond Intel's usual increases in speed.

"We think the Coppermine is a significant release. I think this is going to get a lot of attention in the federal market," said Paul Desmond, product reviews manager at Micron Electronics Inc. "The bottom line is that this chip has reduced heat [and] increased performance."

The new processors are based on 0.18 micron technology, a process that creates smaller chips. This enables Intel to produce more chips per wafer, and it also brings the elements of a chip closer together, cutting down on the space, power and heat generated by larger chips based on the 0.25 micron fabrication.

Even without considering any of the other enhancements Intel put in the Coppermine processors, this change alone brings an almost 20 percent performance increase to processors with the same speed designation, Otellini said.

Intel also was able to increase the size of the bus, the part that moves data between the processor and the motherboard, from 100 MHz to 133 MHz on all but the mobile processors, widening an important bottleneck.

The company also added 256K of Level 2 cache, which is high-speed memory that sits between the processor and its main memory. And, looking to the growing use of the Internet and videoconferencing, Intel added multimedia streaming instructions that allow for faster processing of graphics and video.

The new processors for the mobile market bring the processing power for laptops up to par with desktops. "Users will no longer have to make compromises in terms of using mobile PCs," said Robert Jecmen, general manager of the Intel architecture mobile and handheld products group.

Intel introduced two power mobile processors as well as a low-volt, low power consumption chip for new lines of small and thin notebooks.

"This shrinks the gap between notebooks and desktops. It makes desktop replacement [with notebooks] much more viable," said Marc Jourlait, director of worldwide market development for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s mobile computing division. "That's the big benefit for PIII for all notebook players."

Desktops will get much of the same processing and graphics improvement, but the faster bus and the new 820 chipset architecture expected in the next quarter also will make a difference, said Pat Gelsinger, general manager of the Desktop Products Group.

For workstations, the improved processing and graphics power allows for faster and more accurate modeling and simulation, especially important for tasks such as virtual design, said Anand Chandrasekher, general manager for Intel's Workstation Product Group.

As with any new processor, different types of users will move to the new systems soon, including engineers who will want the improved power and graphics, while others probably will wait until more evaluation has been done, vendors said.

Intel is pricing the processors aggressively, enabling system vendors to keep prices low, sometimes very close to Pentium II systems.

"The pricing from Intel is aggressive, but it's not so aggressive that it undermines the PII technology that's out there today," said Matt Mazzantini, Armada product manager at Compaq.

"With Coppermine, you're going to see introductory high-performance machines at prices that are the same as yesterday's technology," Desmond said. "That makes [the Coppermine chip] very attractive to smart government IT people trying to justify a return on the investment over a period of time."

Desmond said the decision probably will come down to program mangers asking themselves a simple question: "Do I become a hero and cut the budget [spend less money] by purchasing the existing technology at greatly reduced prices, or do I become an even bigger hero and keep the budget the same but get the latest and greatest technology?"

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