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Intel's Slot 2 is big

The next-generation Pentium II design will be bigger, better, and, most importantly, much pricier than before, according to analysts.

Intel's second slot is a whopper.

The next-generation Pentium II design will be bigger, better, and, most importantly, much pricier than before, according to analysts.

The "Slot 2" processor package that will be used to house upcoming Pentium II processors will be approximately twice the size of the "Slot 1" package which Intel currently uses to house the Pentium II.

The new Slot 2 design is initially targeted at high-end computers, such as servers and workstations.

The king-size package will come with a sky-high price to match.

Intel's Slot 2 Pentium II
Intel's Slot 2 Pentium II
Slot 2 Pentium II chips running at 400 MHz and 450 MHz will sell for $2,000 to $3,000 or more in volume, a price that is far higher than current Pentium II desktop chip prices. Pentium IIs for desktops sell for between $268 to $722 in volume.

"It's a business reality," said Nathan Brookwood, semiconductor analyst with Dataquest. "You might say that [the higher price] is because of lack of competition, but the fact of the matter is that they will be competing against chips from DEC, SGI, HP. Intel in that space represents a real value."

Slot 2 refers to the packaging and the interface that will be part and parcel of Pentium II chips for workstations and servers. The Slot 1 package, which was introduced with the Pentium II, is the sleek, black casing that is synonymous with the look and feel of the Pentium II; It's the one that is featured in most of Intel's current TV ads.

The Slot 1 design in many ways represented an evolutionary shift in microprocessor construction because, among other reasons, it replaced the pin cushion-like connector with an electronic groove and allowed for a secondary processor bus with additional cache memory. A bus is a data pathway from other components to the processor. Cache memory is used to make up for the discrepancy between the speed of main memory and the processor, which is faster.

Measuring 5.5 inches by almost 2.5 inches, the Slot 1 was also considered huge when it came out.

Early indications show that the Slot 2 package will come close to doubling that size. Intel flashed a photograph of the insides of the Pentium II package last week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco. The internal board was roughly twice the size of the internal board used inside a Slot 1 Pentium II package.

"It's smaller than a bread box, but not much," said Jim Turley, an analyst with MicroDesign Resources.

Most of the size difference seems to come as a result of the additional high-speed cache memory chips that will come with the high-end Pentium II "Deschutes" chips. These processors will come with between 512KB and 2MB of cache memory. To accommodate this much cache memory, the Slot 2 package will have to hold up to four customized 512KB SRAM (static random access memory) chips, as well as the microprocessor.

Slot 1 Pentium II packages come with two cache memory chips, each with only half the storage capacity of the Slot 2 cache memory chips.

"It's big, there's no doubt about it," deadpanned Brookwood.

Brookwood, among others, also pointed out that the more powerful chip needs to dissipate heat, thereby making a large package necessary.

Hardware-wise, servers and workstations using these chips will have to accommodate these larger chips and the heat dissipation devices that go with them, but this will not present huge engineering challenges to vendors, said Turley. Machines with Slot 2 chips will also be capable of using up to 8 processors at once. Current Slot 1 Pentium II machines are capable of supporting only two processors.

While declining to give dimensions to the Slot 2 design, Mike Fister, vice president of manufacturing and product development for Intel, said last week at the ISSCC convention that the Slot 2 package would be bigger and that the connecting groove would be longer than the Slot 1 chip.

Slot 2 chips will come at a price premium and likely retain their value a bit longer due to the type of market they will enter. Price security also may come from the fact that the chip will not face direct competition right away. High-end Pentium Pro chips have not faced competition from products from other X86 vendors and these chips have retained their value for close to a year. The top-of-the-line Pentium Pro chip, which is only used for servers and workstations, sells for more than $2,600 in volume.

By contrast, most Pentium II desktop chips, which face competition from AMD and others, have dropped over half their price.

While acknowledging that the competitive pressure may be less immediate, Turley predicted that Intel will likely discount these chips as well.

"If they follow their track record, they will charge extraordinary high prices for the first four to six months and then roll off," said Turley.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.