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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Culture

Coppermine Pentium IIIs tough to find

Nearly all major PC manufacturers and a number of retailers claim there is a dearth of the newest Pentium III processors, especially the fast 700-MHz and 733-MHz versions.

Intel announced its newest Pentium III processors more than two weeks ago, but so far they haven't been easy to find.

Nearly all major PC manufacturers and a number of retailers claim there is a dearth of "Coppermine" Pentium III processors, especially the fast 700-MHz and 733-MHz versions. Individuals at two leading PC companies say they barely have enough of the 733-MHz chips to perform testing or make review systems.

Smaller manufacturers and chip dealers aren't even advertising the 700-MHz and 733-MHz products, which were announced with 13 other processors on October 25.

"There's a ridiculous shortage of these chips," according to one source who works at a major PC manufacturer.

The situation markedly contrasts with the chipmaking giant's normal course of business. Typically, when Intel releases a new chip the supply pipeline has been well stocked so that manufacturers can launch new systems the day the processor is announced.

Still, not everyone is grumbling.

"We're getting all the Coppermine processors that we need," said one supplier of consumer and small-business systems. "But that's not surprising. We don't move the volumes of Gateway or IBM."

George Alfs, an Intel spokesman, noted Dell has been shipping PCs with the 700-MHz version of the chip while Micron Electronics has been selling 733-MHz PCs.

"Demand is pretty hot, but we have been shipping a lot of products in all speeds," he said. Earlier, Intel said that it had manufactured "hundreds of thousands" of the chips last quarter and will expand that number greatly this quarter.

The shortage, likely caused by an earlier product delay, does not appear severe enough to dent the fourth-quarter financial performance of PC makers. Nonetheless, aggravation is rising among manufacturers and retailers. The four-day Thanksgiving weekend, the official beginning of the holiday buying season, is two weeks away.

Although there's still time to get Coppermine products in front of consumers, the production cycle is being compressed, sources said. Business systems using the chip may not be available in great quantities until the end of the year, another source said.

When Intel comes out with its 820 chipset for combining Coppermine Pentium IIIs and Rambus memory on Monday, for instance, many PC makers will announce support for the combination. Few, however, will start shipping products that day. Supply will likely improve relatively soon, but the overall picture remains unclear.

"They are in very short supply," said a source. "Allocation is bad right now." Like the other sources, this one spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Dealers who build their own systems and or sell processors to consumers paint a similar, but slightly worse, situation. Some supplies of 533-MHz and 600-MHz Coppermine Pentium IIIs exist, but 700-MHz and 733-MHz chips might not come to this segment of the market for weeks or even months, dealer sources said.

"This is a serious problem for which someone needs to hold Intel accountable," said yet another PC manufacturer, who grumbled that Coppermine shortages "add salt to the wounds of the 820 [chipset] delay."

A spot check with Dell sales representatives illustrated some of the supply constraints. The sales representative did not predict an exact date when a 700-MHz system could be delivered. A 600-MHz Coppermine system would be delivered by November 24, although it could arrive earlier. A non-Coppermine Pentium III running at 600-MHz could be had by November 17, the representative said.

The chip giant isn't the first to experience a shortfall this year. A dearth of "motherboard" components stifled supplies of PCs based around AMD's Athlon processor for about six weeks earlier this fall. Motorola also put off its 500-MHz G4 processor because of defects.

Coppermine was the code name for a series of new, high-performance Pentium III processors. When it debuted, Intel announced 15 different versions for desktops, servers, notebooks, and workstations.

The chips differ from previous Pentium IIIs chiefly because they come with a fast secondary cache, sort of a data reservoir, integrated onto the same piece of silicon as the processor. Running at faster clock speeds, the Coppermine chips also come with either a 100-MHz or 133-MHz system bus.

The shortage may have been caused by earlier delays to the new processors, theorized Nathan Brookwood, principal at Insight 64. Earlier this summer, Intel delayed releasing the Coppermine from September to November. At the time, the company said it had a technical problem which reduced the number of fast chips that could be harvested from each silicon wafer.

In August, CEO Craig Barrett then promised that Intel would deliver 700-MHz Coppermine processors in October.

The technical problems appear to be solved, said Brookwood. However, the delay has meant that a stockpile of processors wasn't built up.

"It's a little bit of a problem to be sure. Usually when they introduce a chip, they have filled the pipeline," he said.

News.com's Joe Wilcox contributed to this report.