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Intel cranks out fastest Pentium 4

The launch of the 2.4GHz processor for desktops, the chipmaker's fastest Pentium 4 to date, is part of bigger plan to push the Pentium 4 into nearly every sector in the PC market.

April is speed month for Intel, which has faster desktop and mobile Pentium 4 chips ready to roll.

The chipmaker on Tuesday announced its fastest Pentium 4 chip to date, a 2.4GHz processor for desktop PCs. As expected, the chip will be available from a wide range of brand-name PC makers, which began taking orders Tuesday.

At the same time, Intel plans to boost the speed of its Pentium 4-M, the mobile version of the chip for notebook PCs. The new P4-M is due April 23.

The moves, along with new chipsets expected in coming months, are part of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's plan to push the Pentium 4 into nearly every sector of the PC market. A 10 percent shrink in the size of the latest Pentium 4, which lists for $562, combined with new manufacturing techniques and competitiveness from rival Advanced Micro Devices, will also likely lead to price cuts in the near future. Recently, PC manufacturers have been under pressure to "de-feature" PCs because of rising component costs.

Most PC makers will add the new 2.4GHz chip to their high-end desktop PC models and pair it with large hard drives, generous memory allotments and large flat-panel displays. They will tout the new chip as the top-of-the-line performer in their lineups.

Gateway, for example, is adding the chip to its 700XL desktop. The $2,999 machine also comes with 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive, DVD-R and CD-RW drives, and an 18-inch flat-panel display.

Compaq Computer is offering the 2.4GHz chip in its Presario 8000T. The machine, with 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, CD-RW and a 17-inch monitor, will start at $1,680, according to the company's Web site. The addition of more memory, for a total of 512MB, a larger 80GB hard drive and a DVD drive brings the price up to about $1,960.

Dell Computer, meanwhile, has started selling the Pentium 4 in its Dimension 8200 desktop. The machine sells for about $2,000 when configured with the new chip, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-RW and a 17-inch monitor. For the price, Dell also offers a three-year warranty.

A Hewlett-Packard representative said the company plans to sell a desktop with the new chip via HPshopping.com. The PC is likely make its way to retail stores later in the year.

Intel AMD won't be far behind. Last month, the company launched its new 1.73GHz Athlon XP 2100+ desktop processor. Despite the difference in clock speed, the Athlon chip offers competitive performance to the new Intel chip, reviewers have said.

AMD also has faster chips in the works. The company has already begun shipping processors based on a new 130-nanometer processor core called "Thoroughbred." The first chips based on the new core and a new manufacturing process are expected to be made for notebook PCs. However, AMD will migrate the technology to the desktop at a later date, boosting performance for those chips as well.

In addition to lowering power consumption and reducing size, moving its chips from 180 nanometers to 130 nanometers will allow AMD to boost Athlon's clock speed.

Intel has already made the move to 130 nanometers. Its 2.0GHz and 2.2GHz Pentium 4 chips, introduced in January, and the new 2.4GHz chip introduced Tuesday are based on the company's 130-nanometer "Northwood" processor core. The core gives the desktop chips a larger 512KB Level 2 cache, while the 130-nanometer manufacturing process reduces size and power consumption compared with Intel's older 180-nanometer "Willamette" Pentium 4s.

The older chips came in speeds up to 2.0GHz and offered a 256KB Level 2 cache. The larger cache of the newer chips helps boost performance.

On the notebook PC front, Intel is expected to introduce a pair of Pentium 4-M chips at 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz later this month, with the aim of lowering the price of Pentium 4-M notebooks to the $1,500 range. The company is also expected to introduce a faster Pentium 4-M at the same time. Sources have suggested the new chip will operate at 1.8GHz.

It's anticipated that Intel will boost the Pentium 4-M to 2GHz by the end of the year.

In addition, the company is expected to debut a faster 1.4GHz Celeron chip in the next few months.