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Intel's new Celeron chip speeds sub-$1,000 PCs

The company tomorrow plans to launch three faster versions of its Celeron processor, enabling Intel-based computers priced at less than $1,000 to run at speeds of 633, 667 and 700 MHz.

Intel tomorrow plans to launch three faster versions of its Celeron processor for low-cost desktop computers, enabling Intel-based computers priced at less than $1,000 to run at speeds of 633, 667 and 700 MHz.

As previously reported, Intel had originally planned to launch the 633- and 667-MHz chips in April, but decided to delay the launch amid high demand for its existing processors.

Dell Computer and Micron Electronics also plan to launch systems tomorrow, with the other leading computer makers set to debut faster systems during the next 30 days, said Jeff McCrea, director of Intel's desktop products group.

A source close to Intel said that because of the delay, Intel has been able to ship the chip in large numbers to computer makers in preparation for tomorrow's announcement.

Intel's launch comes as rival Advanced Micro Devices debuts its Duron processor, designed to compete with Celeron. AMD unveiled the chip last week, and Duron-based computers are available on Amazon.com's auction site, but brand-name systems won't be available until next month.

Analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64 said that with the arrival of Duron, it was time for Intel to bring out faster low-end chips.

"Now the box can say 700 (MHz)," Brookwood said. He noted that Duron is actually a whole new design, while Intel's launch is just a "speed bump"--but consumers may not notice the difference.

AMD's Duron offers a faster system bus, the connection between the processor and the memory and other components, as well as more total cache--ultra-fast memory on the same chip as the processor used to store frequently accessed information.

"A lot of consumers who buy at retail tend to look only at processor megahertz," Brookwood said. "Clearly AMD has some technical advantages, but it's not at all clear (whether) technical advantages matter in this segment."

In addition, AMD faces several technical challenges in getting its new chip into computer systems. The Duron chip is socketed, meaning it plugs directly into a computer motherboard, while AMD's Athlon historically has shipped as part of a slotted cartridge. As a result, new motherboards are required to work with the Duron. By contrast, the faster Celerons can be used with existing motherboards and system designs.

McCrea wouldn't comment on how Celeron sales have been relative to sales of the company's costlier and more profitable Pentium III line, but McCrea did note that PC prices have stabilized this year. He said that trend is expected to continue.

The 700-, 667- and 633-MHz Celerons are priced at $192, $170 and $138, respectively.