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Intel's new chips target high end of budget class

The chip giant introduces two new Celeron processors for budget computers that will kick off another cycle of competition in the consumer PC market.

Intel introduced two new Celeron processors for budget computers today that will kick off another cycle of competition in the consumer PC market.

As expected, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker unveiled two new Celeron processors running at 566 MHz and 600 MHz. While faster than current Celerons, the two new chips also contain the multimedia enhancements found thus far only in the Pentium III line, according to Jeff McCrea, director of marketing for desktop processors at Intel. The chips are in fact identical in many respects to the more expensive Pentium III and are manufactured on the same wafers, he said.

As a result of the faster speeds, multimedia enhancements and other features, the chips achieve benchmark scores that are at least 10 percent higher than existing Celerons, he said.

"For multimedia applications, you can get 30 to 36 percent improvement. For 3D, you can get 50 to 56 percent improvement," he said.

The new chips will go into sub-$1,000 computers. A number of computer manufacturers will likely adopt the chips.

The company will then follow up in late April with two more Celerons, running at 633 MHz and 667 MHz. A 700-MHz Celeron, which in February was slated for the second half of the year, may also come out toward the end of the second quarter.

Rival Advanced Micro Devices, meanwhile, will counter with new notebook processors in the next few weeks and a version of Athlon, code-named Spitfire, for budget PCs toward the middle of the year. Spitfire will displace the K6-2 in cheap consumer desktops, company executives have said.

Along with raising the performance bar in the budget segment, the new processors will help Intel improve manufacturing efficiencies, McCrea said. The structure of the new Celerons is fairly identical to the core of the Pentium III.

The key difference between the two is that Pentium IIIs contain 256K of integrated secondary cache. The Celerons contain transistors for 256K of integrated cache, but only 128K of the cache eventually gets activated. The difference in cache sizes gives the Pentium III an inherent performance advantage.

The similarity, however, allows Intel to manufacture both lines on the same wafers. In the end, this means more chips per wafer. "With this, we can increase our manufacturing flexibility," McCrea said.

Overall, the differences between the new Celerons and the Pentium III line will be how the chips are marketed and the type of computers in which they are used. Celerons, for instance, will largely come with chipsets that use standard memory and have integrated graphics. Pentium IIIs typically get paired with faster Rambus memory and almost always come with higher performance graphics chips.

The system bus--the main data conduit between the processor and the rest of the computer--runs at 66 MHz in Celeron computers, while it hits 100 MHz and 133 MHz in Pentium III systems, he added.

The Celerons also will generally come to market at lower clock speeds (the MHz number), but this is largely a function of how the manufacturer markets them, analysts have said. These chips can run at faster speeds but are tested and sold for performance at lower speeds.

The 566-MHz chip will sell for $167 in wholesale quantities of 1,000, while the 600-MHz will sell for $181 in the same quantities. Retail prices for single chips at computer stores will typically be higher, although some dealers may offer it for less in the future. Like fresh produce, retail chip prices fluctuate constantly with supply. A number of computer manufacturers likely will adopt the chips for sub-$,1000 computers.