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Intel bumps up speed on Celeron chips

In time for this week's Consumer Electronics Show, the company unleashes an 800-MHz Celeron chip to power low-cost PCs.

Intel on Wednesday turned up the juice on low-priced PCs.

In time for this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the chipmaker introduced a new 800-MHz Celeron chip for low-cost PCs. Intel also introduced its 1.3-GHz Pentium 4--a lower-priced and slightly slower version of the chip.

Intel's goals are to boost the performance of low-cost PCs with the Celeron and to make computers with the Pentium 4 more affordable. Currently, most Pentium 4 machines, which contain 1.4-GHz and 1.5-GHz chips, cost more than $2,000. Computers with the new Pentium 4 will start around $1,600.

The new 800-MHz chip is the first Celeron to offer a 100-MHz system bus, which is a data pathway that connects the processor to the computer's memory. The faster bus, Intel asserts, will provide a moderate performance bump for low-cost PCs.

Since early 1999, the company had been internally evaluating whether to put the faster bus into production. At the time, however, its research showed that consumers cared more about megahertz and a PC's price than about the bus.

A faster bus would have improved performance, but it would have slightly added to costs. As a result, Intel put off adopting it until now. Competitive pressure from rival Advanced Micro Devices' Duron chip, which offers a 200-MHz bus, likely played a role in the decision.

The new 800-MHz Celeron chip will cost $170 each in 1,000-unit quantities.

When compared with the current 766-MHz Celeron, which sports a 66-MHz bus, the total performance improvement for the new 800-MHz chip and 100-MHz bus is up to 20 percent, Intel representatives said. Celeron processor clock-speed upgrades alone usually account for performance increases ranging from 7 percent to 9 percent.

Intel plans to announce PCs based on the new 800-MHz at or around the time of the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins Saturday.

PC makers jumped the gun a bit by selling the 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 around Dec. 29. Dell Computer, for example, began offering a Dimension 8100 PC with the 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 with a price tag starting at $1,599.

"Intel is updating the hardware ingredients of value PCs to bring more performance and capabilities to consumers in 2001," Jeff McCrea, director of Intel Desktop Platform Marketing, said in a statement.

Additionally, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company announced Wednesday a new version of its low-cost Intel 810 chipset. The new chipset, dubbed 810E2, includes Intel's updated input/output controller hub, otherwise known as ICH2.

For consumers, ICH2's most important feature likely will be the addition of two more universal serial bus ports for a total of four ports. Current PCs based on the 810E chipset offer only two USB ports.

Intel is expected to cut prices across the board on its desktop processors later this month, according to sources.

Large price cuts are expected on the Pentium 4, while smaller cuts will come on Pentium III and Celeron chips, sources said.

Intel most recently cut prices in early December.