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Dizzying Intel chip choices

Desktop and laptops will have almost limitless configuration possibilities, according to an unpublished Intel document.

Figuring out which computer to buy will be a lot more challenging next year with the substantial expansion of Intel's processor line.

A confidential Intel road map seen by CNET News.com reveals that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker will market a dizzying hodgepodge of chips in 2006. Some will have two cores, or computer brains, on a single piece of silicon, while others will have one core.

Performance-enhancing features such as hyperthreading, 64-bit functionality, execute/disable and virtualization will appear together, separately, in varying combinations or not at all, depending on the chip and the type of computer in which it will be used. Of course, chips will vary by speed, cache size and bus speed.

Intel declined to comment for this story.

Intel's first round of Viiv entertainment-branded PCs will be included on Intel motherboards code-named Bad Axe, Palm Canyon and Bear Canyon. Each motherboard will include LGA775 packaging for 3.60GHz and higher processor frequencies. These computers will rely on the upcoming Yonah notebook chip. Intel declined to comment.

Ultimately, Intel's future Pentium 4 line can be broken into two families: Presler chips, which are due in the first part of 2006 and Conroe desktop processors, which are due in the second half of 2006. Both dual-core processors will be based around an 800MHz front-side bus, which helps speed the chip's complex computations.

Presler, the successor to Smithfield, features two physically separate Cedar Mill processor cores in a single package. The chipsets accompanying Presler will feature EM64T (64-bit translation capabilities); virtualization that juggles multiple tasks by dividing them into separate regions for personal, work and administrative uses; enhanced speed step to help power up and down the processor cycles; LaGrande security system; and execute/disable, or XD technologies, which were designed to work with operating systems like Microsoft Vista to neuter virus and Trojan threats.

Intel motherboards based on Presler and its corresponding 945P and 945G chipsets include code names such as Radio Springs, Palm Canyon and Marblewood.

Pricing stays constant
Two PC platforms, or blueprints, are being prepped for Conroe: Averill, for corporate computers, and Bridge Creek, for home computers. Conroe is part of Intel's next-generation, low-power micro-architecture, which includes Merom for notebooks and Woodcrest for servers.

While the document indicates that Presler is expected to include separate cache memory components, Conroe will sport 2MB and 4MB high-speed unified cache memory, the document said.

Intel motherboards in this category are based mainly on the Broadwater chipset and are expected to be released in the second half of 2006. Boards include such code names as Lemont, Wescott, Coupeville, Guardfish, Westchester, Shrewsbury, Marble Springs, Stoughton, Mequon, Pelzer and Rogers City.

While the consumer lines are expected to fluctuate, Intel's business processors are locked in for at least a 12-month period to help corporations better plan.

Another anticipated trend, according to the internal document, is that hyperthreading, one of the touted features of the Pentium 4, will not be part of Conroe, although Intel is making the technology available in some of its chipsets for single-core processors. Hyperthreading speeds up a chip's performance because it processes two software threads on one semiconductor core, Intel has said.

Intel is expected to launch four new Celeron processors--410, 420, 430 and a low-voltage 423--in the next 18 months. It marks the first time the less expensive chip will be built using 65-nanometer technology.

The chips will include a faster front-side bus to 533MHz--up from 400MHz on previous versions built on the new Yonah processor architecture.

One constant, however, is pricing. The new desktop and notebook chips will sell within the same range as today's chips. When a pricing pyramid stays the same, it traditionally indicates that a company feels somewhat confident about its current position over rivals, as Intel may with AMD.

Intel's highest-priced desktop chips, the Pentium Extreme Edition, will still be priced at $999 in bulk quantities. Two of the chips--PPXE 955 and P4PXE 9xx--will launch in January 2006 and are expected to reach speeds as high as 3.73GHz. The chips will also include a front-side bus architecture as fast as 1066MHz, according to the internal document. The majority of Pentium processors--from the PDP 950 to the PDP 820--will start at $637 and meander through various clock and bus connection speeds to the low end of the spectrum, which is around $163.

Value-priced chips, such as Intel's Celeron family, will range in price from $117 to $69.

Kai Schmerer of ZDNet Germany reported from Munich.