Coppermine's Troubled Debut

Intel’s release of its new Coppermine Pentium III chips on Monday, October 25 brought an initial burst of elation. Techies looked forward to a better, faster chip; consumers looked forward to drops in prices for the rest of Intel’s chip catalog and for a large portion of AMD’s chip catalog. But as Intel’s Coppermine Pentium IIIs rolled off the ore train, they promptly derailed. The new high tech chips are garnering reports of technical flaws and are apparently subject to massive shortages. Intel’s new Coppermine chip is based on .18 micron technology, as opposed to Intel’s old .25 micron technology, and reportedly run cooler and faster. Intel claimed that it would quickly phase out chips made using a .25 micron process and replace them with the newer technology. Alas, the story has turned nasty rather quickly. First came reports that a respected German technical magazine, c’t, had found bugs in Coppermine chips. The magazine's staff had tested the top-of-the-line 733MHz Coppermine Pentium III and found compiler optimization errors and hardware errors. Intel responded that the problems were in the chipset the c’t staff had used. Not that anybody could actually test Coppermine chips for themselves--they're as scarce as hen’s teeth at the moment. Intel ran into its second vein of trouble when it was forced to announce troubling shortages in Coppermine availability. Shortly thereafter we spotted a story that ran first in England's The Register ( reporting that the paper had gained access to some of Chipzilla’s (Intel) internal documents and memos to distributors. These documents, the paper reported, reveal that certain chips, particularly the S370 and the mobile Coppermine, won't arrive in volume until December 1999 and the first quarter of 2000, respectively. It’s like what Woody Allen said about how life is like the food at a bad restaurant: It’s terrible, and there’s not enough of it. The Register joins several other industry observers in speculating that business concerns such as competition from AMD's Althon forced Intel to launch Coppermine early, for which it was unprepared, by business considerations like say having to outgun AMD’s Athlon. AMD has announced the price of its chips and, not surprisingly, it hasn't dropped the price of its mobile chips.

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