The company is preparing to launch its Pentium 4 early in the fourth quarter and will follow the release with a number of processors for different product segments, according to sources. The chip will run at 1.4 GHz, Intel has said.
Toward the end of the third quarter in 2001, the company will come out with Northwood, an improved version of the Pentium 4, according to Bert McComas, an analyst at InQuest Market Research. McComas examined Intel's most recent product road maps and posted an article about them on his company's Web site.
Before that, in the middle of 2001, Intel will come out with Tualatin, a version of the Pentium III made on the 0.13-micron process, more advanced than the current 0.18-micron process, McComas said. The micron measurements refer to the size of certain features on the chip. By shrinking the features, a manufacturer can make the chip smaller and boost its performance.
Along with being faster, Tualatin will contain a larger secondary cache, a bank of memory close to the processor that boosts performance, according to one source. Tualatin Pentium IIIs will contain 512KB of integrated cache, compared with 256KB of integrated cache on current Pentium IIIs.
Tualatin will also come with a 200-MHz system bus. The system bus serves as a data conduit between the processor and the rest of the computer. The current Pentium III system bus tops out at 133 MHz.
For the budget segment, the company will come out with Timna, an inexpensive version of Celeron containing a built-in graphics chip and a memory controller. In the following quarter, the company will release a version of Timna for mobile computers, sources said.
During this time, the Celeron chip will be enhanced to contain a 100-MHz system bus. Current Celerons contain a 66-MHz system bus, which analysts have said throttles the overall performance of Celeron computers.
The Pentium 4 and its successors come at a pivotal time for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel. The company has not been able to meet demand for many of its processors since last November. The chronic shortages, combined with the success Advanced Micro Devices has enjoyed with Athlon, have allowed AMD to capture a substantial position in the consumer market.
The Pentium 4 is expected to give Intel the advantage over AMD in performance, according to analysts. However, if the company can't produce the chip in volume, PC manufacturers may continue to expand their use of Athlon processors.
AMD, meanwhile, is aggressively trying to get into the market for business computers and has an ambitious chip road map of its own. Later this year, it will release Mustang, Corvette and Camaro, which are enhanced versions of Athlon for, respectively, the server, notebook and value markets. Then, in 2002, it will begin to commercially promote Hammer, the successor to Athlon.
Analysts differ broadly on the performance and ultimate success of these chips.
Northwood will be made on the 0.13-micron process. The shift to this more advanced manufacturing process will allow Intel to boost the clock speed. Considering that Intel has said Pentium 4 will debut at 1.4 GHz, Northwood will run at 2 GHz at least, one source predicted.
The chip will be matched with Rambus memory and standard SDRAM computer memory. The chip will also likely get matched with DDR DRAM, a competitor to Rambus, McComas said.
Overall, Rambus will occupy only a niche, he said. "It's a pretty clear admission that Intel is not going to make more of Rambus than the market is willing to make of it," he said. Intel could not be reached for comment and typically does not comment on product code names or unreleased products.
Nonetheless, Intel has already sketched out some of these plans in a general fashion. For instance, Paul Otellini, general manger of the Intel Architecture Group, has said that the Pentium III and Celeron will continue to be sold through 2001, making a transition to the 0.13-micron process inevitable. A shift to the 0.13-micron process for Pentium 4 has also been expected.
Intel executives have said that Pentium 4 will be ready for the 2000 holiday buying season.