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Pentium III is now on sale

Although Intel won't officially release it until February 28, resellers are already offering the chip and systems.

Although Intel won't officially release the Pentium III until February 28, a number of resellers are already offering the chip and systems built around it to customers.

These pre-opening sales come because Intel has already shipped the processor to distributors and chip brokers. In turn, these companies have turned them over to resellers. The debut of the Pentium III will also coincide with price cuts across the Pentium II line.

A 500-MHz Pentium III costs in retail anywhere from $823 to $899, and will likely drop when the official release occurs. Intel's current wholesale price for the processor is $790 for quantities of 1,000, but it will drop to $764 by the time of the release.

Computer resellers who have tested the chip say it comes close to Intel's more expensive Xeon processors for servers and workstations and even outperforms it in some respects. The Xeon performs approximately 10 percent better on benchmark tests for accessing data from main memory, according to Roland Baker, president of Net Express, a Silicon Valley reseller and workstation manufacturer.

The Pentium III, however, is about equal in performance to the Xeon on number crunching applications, he said. "This is important for the scientific community."

Baker added, however, that computer buyers need to be careful when upgrading. The core voltage of the Pentium III is different from the core voltage of the Pentium II and therefore will not work properly on all Pentium II motherboards. The Asus P2B motherboard is so far the most compatible board for the task, he added.

"If you order one today, I can have it by Monday," said Stewart Cahn, a representative at CPU Limited in Southern California. "A full system will probably cost around $2,500."

"It's a special order thing, but it's out," said Jay, a representative at PC Progress, an Elk Grove, Illinois-based reseller.

February will again be another active month for Intel.

On February 7, incremental price cuts are expected on the Celeron line. Under the upcoming price cuts, the 400-MHz Celeron, which currently sells for $175 or $166, will drop to around $140 and $130, depending on the chip packaging, said sources. The 366-MHz, which currently sells for $138 and $123, will drop to around $100 and $90. The 333-MHz Celeron will drop from $90 to $70 while the 300-MHz will drop from $71 to $60. Final pricing may change before then. Incremental price cuts may also occur on the Pentium II line.

On February 17, the company will hold an event in the San Jose, California, Convention Center where a number of companies, including Dell, will show off PCs and other products that will be released with the Pentium III.

In addition, Intel has said that it will release another, faster Celeron during the first quarter.

Intel will then follow with a 466-MHz Celeron in the second quarter and a 500-MHz in the second half, according to Ashok Kumar, semiconductor analyst at Piper Jaffray.