Intel's new roadmap: faster, sooner

Just a week after announcing the first delay in its 64-bit IA-64 CPU, code-named "Merced", Intel has modified plans for their 32-bit line of microprocessors and speed freaks are going to be pleased: Delivery dates for upcoming chipsets--including the Katmai and Tanner--have all been bumped up, and higher-speed versions of all of Intel's chips are going to come sooner than previous announced.

The biggest change comes to the chip code-named "Tanner", which was originally conceived as a stepping-stone to Merced. Tanner was expected to be the ultimate Pentium II chip, and was going to fit into the so-called Slot-M that the Merced will use, offering users a way to upgrade easily to the 64-bit Merced when it is released. Now, Tanner will be released as a Pentium II Xeon processor instead, meaning it will work with the Slot 2 slot used by other Xeons and will not be positioned as a transition chip for Merced. The biggest benefit of this new approach is time: Instead of debuting in mid-1999 as planned, Tanner CPUs will appear in early 1999. The first "Tanner" Pentium II Xeon will run at 500 MHz and feature the MMX-2 instruction set.

MMX-2, code-named "Katmai", goes far beyond the MMX instruction set now found in all Pentium II and Pentium MMX microprocessors. Katmai offers a complete 3D chipset right in the CPU, speeding graphics and gaming application. MMX-2 will also be finding its way into the Pentium II line, with 450 MHz and 500 MHz Pentium IIs featuring the instructions now expected in early 1999.

Also moving forward is the next-generation of the Celeron line, which is geared toward what Intel calls "basic PCs". The Celeron will be upgraded to 300 MHz and 333 MHz late this year, while they will gain 128K L2 cache (the current models have no L2 cache; Pentium II CPUs have 512K).

While the cynical may ponder whether these moves were designed to offset the bad press generated when Intel delayed Merced, the company says that increased manufacturing efficiencies generated improvements in their volume yields that made this possible. Also, the company is swiftly moving to a new .25 micron process, which makes their chips smaller, faster, and run cooler than was previously possible

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