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Pentium, Pentium II hit new highs

The chipmaker is planning the fastest Pentium yet this quarter, just as its next-generation Pentium II hits store shelves and reaches a new high of 300 MHz.

Intel (INTC) is getting ready to announce the fastest Pentium yet as it also boosts the speed of Pentium II processors.

Intel will up the ante in its mainstay Pentium processor line by announcing a 233-MHz version of the chip this quarter, according to sources close to the company. Currently, the fastest version of the multimedia MMX Pentium processor runs at 200 MHz.

Intel is also expected to announce a 300-MHz version of its next-generation Pentium II processor, along with 233- and 266-MHz versions, when the company makes the official announcement in May, according to these sources. The 300-MHz version will be available in very limited quantities however.

"This is more of an announcement about speed than actual volume shipments," said a source familiar with the 300-MHz announcement.

Intel may also say something about higher processor "bus" speeds for the Pentium II processor, though implementation may not happen immediately. The new bus speed is expected to be 100 MHz.

The bus speed is the rate at which a processor communicates with the rest of the PC system. For years this has been stuck at 66 MHz in Intel-based computers.

This speed is acceptable for processors running at 133 MHz, or even 200 MHz. But when super-fast 266- and 300-MHz chips must slow down to speak with the computer at 66 MHz, this can cause performance bottlenecks. The faster 100 MHz will increase overall system performance.

Meanwhile, Fry's, a major California computer and electronics retailer, has been selling 233- and 266-MHz versions of the Pentium II processor, although a sales representative said its supplies sold out quickly.

The chip has also already been delivered to some systems vendors. Major PC vendors such as Dell Computer are in fact champing at the bit, with Pentium II systems ready to go. "[Dell] is locked and loaded and ready to go" with Pentium II systems, a source close to the company said. He added that the company has already received a large supply of the chips.

"Intel's strategy now with announcements is to make sure the channel is completely filled before they announce," the source added.

Pricing for the Pentium II is already set, according to sources.

The 233-MHz Pentium II processor, for example, is expected to be priced at $595 with 512K of "L2" fast built-in cache memory to speed the processors' performance. Pricing for a 266-MHz version is expected to be set at about $725.

That would mean that systems using these chips will initially be priced above $3,000.

The 233-MHz Pentium, on the other hand, will be priced slightly lower than the Pentium II. The Pentium will cost roughly $550 and systems built around this chip should range between $2,500 to $3,000.

Intel will use the pricing to create clear market niches for its products so that system vendors don't immediately abandon the older Pentium chips for the new Pentium II.

As part of this strategy, Intel is also slated to announce new pricing for its other MMX Pentiums at the end of this month. A 166-MHz version will fall from $335 to $255, while the 200-MHz version will sink from $505 to $465, according to sources.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.