Intel plots processor roadmap

Market research firm InQuest has provided a fascinating look at Intel Corporation's plans for the future, detailing the microprocessors and supporting chipsets we're going to see over the next two years. Intel will release a new 32-bit processor architecture, the Pentium 4 ("Willamette") this fall, and then upgrade the chip over the next twelve months with new form factors and capabilities. But the Pentium 3 isn't a dead end either: The company will release new versions of its mainstream CPU well into 2001, including a version that utilizes a 200 MHz front-end bus.

The Pentium 4 will be introduced later this year as a high-end, high-priced solution for servers and workstations only. It will be matched with a "Tehama" chipset that works with controversial Rambus RDRAM memory only. Tehama also features support for AGP4x graphics cards and is otherwise very similar to the i840 chipset that Intel provides for Pentium III systems. InQuest notes that the Pentium 4 will be able to ratchet up to speeds of 1.6, 2.1, 3.2, and 4.26 GHz over time, based on its bus interfaces. Oddly, the first generation Pentium 4 can only be used in a single processor system, though a future "Foster" implementation of the chip, aimed at the server market and featuring very high prices, will allow dual processors. For a variety of reasons, InQuest says, the P4 will also underperform Pentium III systems of the same clock speed by about 20%. The benefit to the P4, however, is that it can quickly reach much higher speeds than is possible with the aging PIII architecture. As always, the advice is to skip first generation Intel processors, since faster and cheaper versions are always just a few months away.

In the first quarter of 2001, for example, Intel will release a next-generation Pentium 4, the "Northwood," which will shrink the die from 0.18 micron to 0.13 micron, enabling faster speeds and cooler temperatures. The Northwood family will likely debut north of 2 GHz, making it a blazingly fast chip. Two basic Northwood configurations will be available, a high-end version based on RDRAM and the Tehama chipset, and one based on lower-cost SDRAM that will power sub-$2000 PCs. Northwood will also debut in a new package design, which will change the physical layout of the chip.

For the Pentium III family, Intel is surging ahead with "Tualatin," a 0.13 micron design that will help this aging x86 design reach new heights. Tualatin chips will hit production late this year or in early 2001 and feature faster clock speeds. In many ways, the Tualatin might be the best bet for a variety of users, because it will offer faster actual speeds and a much lower cost than comparable P4-based systems.

Chipset improvements include the TehamaE chipset, which will feature the ICH3 chip, enabling six USB 2.0 ports directly on the motherboard. In mid-2001, Intel will release the Brookdale chipset, which will bring lower-cost SDRAM memory to the Pentium 4 family. Brookdale will also enable 133 MHz and 266 MHz bus speeds, further speeding new systems. And a future chipset named "Almador," due in late 2001, will follow-up the i815 chipset and might feature a built-in 3D graphics chip.

For more information, please visit the InQuest Web site

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