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Intel's Celeron takes the 64-bit route

Chipmaking giant releases new processor, prepares for battle with AMD's Sempron in the value PC space.

Intel released a 64-bit processor for mainstream PCs on Monday, putting the company a month ahead of rival AMD, which is expected to come out with a chip of the same capacity in July.

Intel's new Celeron D 351 is the heir-apparent to the current Celeron D S775 processor series. The two chips are nearly identical, apart from the addition of 64-bit processing technology, which Intel calls EM64T.

The microprocessor, which is the brain that controls a computer, has been crunching numbers at 32 bits for more than a decade. But companies such as Intel, AMD and IBM are preparing for the next generation of software with chips that can handle more instructions using a computing technology similar to that found in servers. Sixty-four bit chips can process some functions faster and easily accommodate more than 4GB of memory. More memory generally equals better performance, although most PCs today only come with 512MB to 1GB of memory.

AMD is expected to release its 64-bit mainstream Sempron PC processor sometime in mid-July. IBM has been supplying Apple Computer with 64-bit computing with its PowerPC 970, or "G5," processor since June 2003.

The new Celeron features 256KB of advanced memory cache, a 533MHz system bus for faster data transfers, a processor speed of 3.20GHz and hardware support that complements Microsoft Windows Service Pack 2.

Intel says the chip will let consumers surf the Web, play basic games, e-mail, create word processing documents and track home finances more efficiently than before. Intel is also outfitting the new Celeron with two corresponding chipsets that allow for processing high-definition video, 7.1 surround sound audio and improved graphics capabilities.

In addition to its Celeron 351, Intel also announced its Celeron 350. The chip runs at speeds of 3.20GHz, but does not support Intel EM64T. The two processors range in price from $73 to $127 apiece if computer makers purchase more than 1,000 chips.

The chipmaking giant said the introduction of its Celeron D 351 also marks the final transition of its desktop processor products to 64-bit computing technology. Earlier this year, Intel released its Pentium Extreme Edition running its EM64T technology.

Despite its advances on the desktop, Intel has no near-term plans to release mobile versions of its 64-bit Pentium or Celeron processors. Executives with the company have indicated that they should have their product ready in time to take advantage of the release of Microsoft Windows Longhorn next year.

Intel remains firm that the company would only make the switch to making 64-bit processors for notebooks when the ecosystem that supports 64 bits exists and there is high customer demand for a 64-bit Pentium M.