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Intel revs up low end with 533-MHz Celeron

Although the focus in the processor market lately has been on chips for the performance computer segment, Intel spices up cheaper computers with a new Celeron.

Although the focus in the processor market lately has been on chips for the performance computer segment, Intel today spiced up the value segment by releasing a 533-MHz Celeron and promises to keep the crank turning.

The new processor will match the speed of AMD's 533-MHz K6-2, released last month, and more chips are on the way. The Celeron family will migrate to the more advanced 0.18-micron manufacturing process in the first half of this year, said Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of the desktop products group, which will mean smaller, faster and cheaper Celerons.

"With that we will have a lot of headroom," to boost clock speeds, he said. Intel hasn't come out with a new Celeron since August, but that is because "competition didn't require us to make steps beyond that."

A recently disclosed road map shows that Intel plans to boost Celeron to at least 633 MHz by the end of the year and release a low-cost version with an integrated graphics chip and memory controller, code-named "Timna," at 600 MHz in the third quarter of this year.

Rival AMD has plans of its own. In the near future, it plans to release K6-2+, a higher speed version of the K6-2 with an integrated secondary cache. Cache integration, which adds a small amount of memory to the processor, is a standard feature in the K6-3, Pentium III and Celeron lines. In the second half of 2000, AMD plans to release "Spitfire," a budget version of Athlon.

The new Celerons will appear in PCs, while other members of the Celeron family will likely go in TV set-top boxes and other Internet appliances. Philips is expected to adopt Celeron for a set-top box. Compaq, meanwhile, used one inside its Web companion device.

"We thought StrongArm would be the lead product" for set-tops, said Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group in an interview at the Comdex trade show. "Everyone wants Celeron."

The budget processor segment has been fairly quiet lately, especially in comparison to a year ago. Intel, losing market share and design to AMD in the sub-$1,000 PC segment, vowed that the company would take a "scorched-earth" policy by cutting prices and accelerating clock speeds on Celeron. Changes to chip packaging absorbed some of the impact of the price cuts.

The strategy worked as Intel began to regain lost market share by March. By the middle of the year, however, consumers began to focus more on the upcoming performance processors. AMD first released Athlon, which Intel followed with the "Coppermine" generation of Pentium IIIs.

Since then, the two have been trying to outdo each other with faster processors. Intel put out an 800-MHz Coppermine last month, which AMD will likely match that later this week with an 800-MHz Athlon, according to various sources. In contrast to the budget processors, however, there are few of these speed barrier chips available, said sources.

Although Celeron will increase in clock speed, other changes will come more gradually. The chip, for instance, still depends on a 66-MHz system bus. The system bus is the main conduit between the processor and the rest of the computer and the faster it runs, the better the performance. Athlon and Coppermine use 200-MHz and 133-MHz buses.

Intel will in all likelihood not boost the bus speed in the first half, Gelsinger acknowledged. Celeron chips will also not likely be matched with faster 133-MHz memory in the first half, but continue to be coupled with the more traditional 100-MHz memory.

"We will continue with the 66-MHz bus for the near future," he said. "In the value space it is megahertz and price. Bus speed (and other technology) is now what customers are looking at."

The 533-Mhz Celeron sells for $167 in volume, wholesale quantities. Actual retail price will typically be higher. Intel did not cut prices on other Celerons.