With the Pentium III, formerly code-named Katmai, Intel will begin to widen the gap in performance between chips for high-end desktops and its own Celeron chips for low-end PCs.
Not only will Pentium IIIs be faster than Celeron chips, the chip will come with technological enhancements, such as a speedier system bus and additional multimedia instructions, that won't come to the Celeron line until at least 2000. The chip will come to market in early March, say sources, riding a multimillion-dollar ad campaign and a slew of new performance PCs from major manufacturers.
The company also seems intent on avoiding the software gap that occurs historically with the debut of a new processor. With the Pentium MMX and the Pentium II chips, little software existed at the time the chips were released that took advantage of the enhancements brought by the processors.
For the Pentium III release, Intel has been working with software developers for over a year to fine tune applications for the chip, according to Greg Welch, brand manager for Pentium III.
"There will be more titles for the Pentium III at the launch than in any previous release," he said. "This will enter at the higher end of the PC market, not only in terms of performance but in terms of feature set." A Dell spokesperson also said that it will be working with vendors to develop high-speed Internet video applications that take advantage of the new instructions.
The Pentium III in many ways is a sequel to the Pentium II. The new chip is built around a Pentium II core with additional capabilities.
For one, the chip will come with 70 new multimedia instructions that will improve graphics performance. Video, for example, will run smoother because a computer with a Pentium III will be able to churn more frames per second.
The chip will come out at 450 MHz and 500 MHz and move beyond 600 MHz by the end of 1999, according to company sources. The chip will cost around $560 in volume at its release, sources have said, which is low for a chip introduction by Intel standards.
When Pentium III arrives, Pentium II will start to get phased out, he added. No further upgrades for Pentium II desktop chips are planned, Welch said. Pentium III will then come to notebooks in the second half.
In addition, the company will release a Pentium III-based Xeon processor for servers. Previously code-named Tanner, the Pentium III Xeon will come out in the first quarter, Welch said. Sources, however, expect the chip to be much more expensive.
Moreover, the chip will come with a 133-MHz system bus by the second half. The system bus controls the flow of data between the processor and main memory and the faster they are, the better the performance. Current Pentium II chips use a 100-MHz system bus. Celerons use a 66-MHz system bus, and will likely continue to use that bus until 2000, the company has said.
Like previous processor rollouts, Intel will spend millions to promote the new processor. A new logo was released today, which will begin to be featured in advertisements, including television time blocked off during the Super Bowl.
The idea will be to achieve "retina burn" with the new logo, he said.