Intel's widely anticipated Pentium II CPU will debut in May, the company told WinHEC attendees yesterday. Industry observers have determined that May 5 will be the exact release date. The Pentium II is a Pentium Pro-class chip with MMX extensions. Oddly, it offers better 16-bit performance than the Pentium Pro and is optimized for the Windows 95 operating system. The Pentium II sits on a special daughtercard that requires a new kind of motherboard: prices for Pentium II systems are expected to be steep. Intel also separated the L2 cache from the CPU, cutting costs and making the cache size more easily changed if needed in the future. Intel CEO Andy Grove detailed the chip's Dual Independent Bus architecture today, a feature that will improve the processor's memory bandwidth performance.
Intel will ship 233 and 266 Mhz versions of the Pentium II at first, with a 300 Mhz version expected by year's end. Andy Grove demonstrated a 300 Mhz system today, which had a total bandwidth three times as fast as the fastest Pentium processor now available. The company is also testing a 400 Mhz version. The next CPU from Intel, "Deschutes," is essentially a smaller Pentium II that will run cooler and offer faster speeds. It will likely come in yet another form factor as well, requiring more motherboard upgrades. Two more 32-bit CPUs will follow, code-named "Katmai" and "Willamette." After that, the 64-bit "Merced" will debut. Development of Merced and Deschutes will continue in parallel, according to Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's Desktop Products group. "We have multiple generations of 32-bit processors under development," said Gelsinger. "We see no end to 32-bit processors."
Intel is also working to improve the other components of the PC architecture so that the overall speed of systems improves dramatically in the next few years. PCs will switch from DRAM to Rambus DRAM, a next- generation version of DRAM. Hard drive interfaces will move from today's EIDE to UltraDMA this year, and then to the IEEE-1394 "FireWire" interface. Intel's Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) will speed graphics operations, particularly 3D. "We predict a 10 times improvement over the next three years," according to Gelsinger