Tech Industry

Intel's 'Prescott' chip to keep Pentium 4 name

The chipmaker will upgrade its flagship PC chip in the beginning of the year, but it will keep the current name.

Intel will upgrade its flagship PC chip in the beginning of the year, but it will keep the current name.

"Prescott," the code name for an optimized version of the Pentium 4, will continue to be sold under the Pentium 4 name, according to sources close to the company. Prescott chips will contain 13 new instructions to improve multimedia performance and run at higher speeds than existing Pentium 4s.

In the past, Intel has used the introduction of new instructions to come out with a new processor name. The Pentium III, which came out in 1999, contained 70 new instructions but was otherwise nearly identical to the Pentium II when it launched.

Later, Intel changed the Pentium III package and integrated the cache, a reservoir of memory for rapid data access, into the same silicon as the processor.

"It is always a fine line, but I think they will promote Hyper-Threading more," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64. Hyper-Threading allows a chip to do more tasks simultaneously. It made its debut on servers and workstations but came to desktops a little over a year ago. "If they called it Pentium 5, they would have to tell people why it's better than a Pentium 4."

Keeping the name also helps Intel avoid a marketing muddle with the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. This chip, which was added to the company's product road map this summer, comes with 2MB of cache. Current Pentium 4s have a 512KB cache and Prescott will have a 1MB cache.

With the extra-large cache, the Extreme Edition will outperform Prescott, Brookwood said, and will likely sell for more. It would look odd if Prescott were given a new, higher-numbered name but was slower than a chip already on the market. Current Extreme Edition chips now sell for over $900 while standard desktop chips generally come out at $637.

Intel has said it will come out with more Extreme Edition chips, but a Prescott version with a large cache won't come out for months.

Originally expected at the end of this year, Prescott will now likely come out in February, according to sources. The delay occurred so that Intel could increase the chip's clock speed within a given thermal envelope, a maximum temperature level. Prescott will consume quite a bit of energy, analysts say, which means it will dissipate a lot of heat inside PCs, which has the potential to be damaging.

"The need to compete with a resurgent (Advanced Micro Devices) may have led Intel to rework the Prescott die...to scale to higher frequencies at launch. While many expected Prescott to launch at 3.4GHz, it's possible that Intel ran into speed problems or wanted to reach 3.6GHz at launch," Ashok Kumar, an analyst with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, wrote in an Oct. 13 report.

Prescott, and Dothan, an upcoming notebook processor, will both be made on the 90-nanometer process, which means that the average feature size on these chips will measure 90 nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Not only will 90-nanometer chips be smaller than 130-nanometer chips, but they should also cost less to produce over time.