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Chip cavalcade coming from Intel

January will be a big month for the chip giant as it rolls out a new version of its Xeon processor, a Pentium II processor with integrated memory for mobile computers, and a series of Celeron chips.

January will be a big month for Intel as the chip giant plans to roll out a new high-end version of its Xeon processor, a Pentium II processor with integrated memory for mobile computers, and a series of Celeron chips for notebooks and desktops.

The new chips, which will also prompt price cuts on existing Intel processors, will help Intel shore up gaps in its product lineup as well as open up new markets.

The 450-MHz version of Xeon with 2MB of secondary cache memory, for instance, will come out during the week of January 4, according to sources. This chip, which will be incorporated into servers running four processors, was originally due in the fall of 1998, but was delayed for further testing. This in turn delayed many server rollouts.

During the same week, the company will roll out 366-MHz and 400-MHz versions of its low cost Celeron chip, said sources, which will be accompanied by a flurry of desktop computers from a variety of computer makers.

By contrast, the mobile Celeron chips, which come out during the week of January 25, according to sources, will mark Intel's entry into the low-cost notebook segment.

The processor cavalcade will be followed later in the quarter by the release of the first Katmai processors. Katmai chips, which will be targeted toward high-performance desktop computers, include additional instructions not found in Pentium II processors that will enhance multimedia performance. Katmai chips running at 500-MHz and higher will come out in the first half, according to Paul Otellini, executive vice president of the Intel architecture business group.

The release of Katmai will also lead to a faster 133-MHz system bus, said sources, which will only come to the basic PC segment in the second half. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.)

Rival Advanced Micro Devices will also remain close on Intel's heels with a 450-MHz version of the K6-2 chip in the first quarter, according to AMD executives. AMD will also release the K6-3, with 256KB of integrated secondary cache, for notebooks in the first quarter.

Intel will use the first week of January to roll out the new Xeon chip and faster Celeron chips for desktops. A number of server makers, including Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, and NEC Computer Systems, among others, are expected to release machines based around the new Xeon chip.

The most radical change on the upcoming Xeon is the fact that it will contain 2MB of secondary cache memory. Cache memory servers as a data reservoir for the processor and enhances performance. Existing Xeon processors contain either 512KB or 1MB of secondary cache.

So far, Intel has not had an easy time getting out chips with large secondary caches. When Xeon debuted last summer, there was an immediate shortage of chips containing 1MB of memory due to bugs discovered near the release. The supply situation improved toward October when Intel fixed the bugs.

Along with the Xeon chip, Intel is expected to release a 366-MHz version of the Celeron chip for notebooks. There is also a possibility that Intel may also release a 400-MHz version of the chip at this time as well, said Nathan Brookwood, a processor analyst at Insight 64. In November, Intel shifted the release of the 400-MHz Celeron from the second half of 1999 to the first half.

Intel needs a boost in the low-end of the market, said Brookwood. The first Celeron chip, code-named Covington, was roundly criticized by analysts and reviewers. Intel later drastically improved the chip by incorporating 128KB of secondary cache memory.

Despite the performance boost, however, the chips appear to be in abundant supply. A number of retailers are selling the 333-MHz and 300-MHz versions of Celeron with integrated cache for under $100, well below official wholesale prices.

Ironically, although the Celeron chips are close in performance to Pentium II chips running at the same speeds, the 300-MHz and 333-MHz Pentium IIs have been in short supply, said Brookwood.

"Intel clearly has its work cut out for it at the low end," he said.

The mobile releases, which will occur during the last week of January, will involve "Dixon," a 366-MHz Pentium II chip with 256KB of integrated secondary cache memory, and two mobile Celeron chips running at 266-MHz and 300-MHz. Intel has also said it will release a 300-MHz version of the Pentium MMX line for mini-notebooks.