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Intel juices Celerons for budget PCs

The chipmaker ratchets up the top speed of its Celeron chips for low-priced desktop computers with the release of 2.1GHz and 2.2GHz versions.

Intel's Celeron chips on Wednesday put on a burst of speed for low-priced PCs.

The chipmaker introduced two new Celeron processors running at 2.1GHz and 2.2GHz, the fastest Celeron chips to date. Intel is aiming the new Celerons at PC manufacturers that build and sell inexpensive home desktops priced at $600 or below.

Increased competition and lackluster retail sales have forced many budget PC sellers--including Emachines, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard--to offer 1.8GHz or 2GHz desktops based on the Celeron chip at the $399 mark.

Gateway will begin offering a 2.1GHz Celeron processor as a $50 upgrade on its Gateway 300 line starting next week, a representative for the PC maker said. The company's desktop PC line starts at $499, before rebates and promotions.

Dell Computer, however, will wait for the chips to come down in price before offering them in its Dimension 2300 desktop, a company representative said. A 1.8GHz Celeron is at the heart of the most basic configuration of the Dimension 2300, which starts at $569. Though the low-priced computer was built around Intel's Celeron line, customers also have the option of upgrading to a 1.8GHz or 2GHz Pentium 4 chip.

An Intel representative said the chipmaker expects HP and NEC to offer desktops with new Celerons soon. Smaller PC makers and retailers who sell PC components, such as Egghead, are likely to offer the chips immediately, the representative added.

In 1,000-unit quantities, the new 2.1GHz and 2.2GHz Celerons will list for $89 and $103, respectively, while the current 2GHz Celeron lists for $83. However, street prices on all the chips are likely to vary from list.

Aside from clock speed, the main differences between the new Celerons and Intel's fastest chip, the 3GHz Pentium 4, are cache size (the amount of data that can be stored close to the processor core for quick access) and bus speed.

The new Celerons provide 128KB of level 2 cache and a 400MHz bus, while all Pentium 4 chips now come with 512KB of cache. Pentium 4 processors running at 2.26GHz and higher offer a 533MHz bus. The faster bus allows data to move more quickly between the chip and main memory inside a PC.