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From Intel: New P4 chip, Itanium plans

The chipmaker unveils a 3.2GHz Pentium 4. It's also ready to discuss a new version of its upcoming Madison chip designed for dual-processor servers and workstations.

Intel on Monday came out with a Pentium 4 running at 3.2GHz and separately has plans to discuss a new version of its upcoming Madison chip specially enhanced for dual-processor servers and workstations.

The 3.2GHz Pentium 4 will likely be the fastest desktop chip on the market for a few months. The Pentium 4 has already opened a slight gap over the rival Athlon from Advanced Micro Devices, according to benchmark testers, and AMD is not expected to come out with another desktop chip until September when the Athlon64 debuts. PCs containing AMD chips often sell for less than do computers running Intel chips of the same speed.

The 2GHz PowerPC 970, coming out in new Power Macs, will likely be close in performance to these chips, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, but the 2GHz chip won't likely hit store shelves for a while, he added.

The new Pentium 4 will also probably be one of the last, if not the last, of the classic Pentium 4s. In the second half of the year, the company plans to unveil the successor to the Pentium 4, code-named Prescott. Prescott is based on the same basic architecture, but contains new instructions for multimedia processing, as well as other features.

"It's more than likely" the last classic Pentium 4, said Brookwood. Brookwood added that Prescott, although different from the current Pentium 4s, may still be sold under the Pentium 4 name. Still, historically, Intel often reaches for the new-name bag whenever instructions or other significant features are added.

Like other high-end Intel processors, the new chip features hyperthreading, which allows the processor to do two things at once fairly efficiently, such as running virus scans and compressing video. It will also be matched with chipsets with buses running as fast as 800MHz.

The new chip will cost $637 in 1,000 unit quantities. Intel cut prices on its other desktop chips earlier this month.

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The company also is coming out with a version of Madison, the upcoming new version of the Itanium 2 chip, specially designed for dual-processor systems, according to Tom Gibbs, director of industry marketing at Intel.

Although Gibbs declined to provide technical details behind this previously undisclosed version of Madison, or how it will differ from other versions of the chip, he said that the chip would likely end up in servers for high-performance clusters.

Clusters--conglomerations of one- and two-processor servers that can take on tasks that just a few years ago had to be handled by supercomputers--are fueling Intel's growth in the high-performance and scientific computing market. Although still complex, clusters are far easier to build than monolithic supercomputers.

Madison, which sources say will come out June 30, is the successor to the current Itanium 2, which was known as McKinley. Madison will run at 1.5GHz and contain between 3MB and 6MB of cache, a comparatively large amount.

Overall, it will deliver 50 percent better performance than McKinley, Intel claims. Early benchmarks submitted by Hewlett-Packard show that Madison will rank with the fastest server chips on the market.

To date, Itanium sales have been sluggish, but Intel appears to be getting more support from computer manufacturers this time around. Dell Computer, which skipped McKinley, is expected to come out with a Madison server.

In March, Intel President Paul Otellini said that there would be around 40 different Itanium computers on the market containing two to four processors and 10 containing more than four in 2003, double the number in 2002.

AMD, meanwhile, is expected to announce a version of its Opteron chip for eight-processor servers by the end of the quarter, which ends June 30, said sources.