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Intel breathes new life into desktops

The company will release its Prescott desktop chip later this year and follow it in 2004 with a successor code-named Tejas.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel will release its Prescott desktop chip later this year and follow it in 2004 with a successor code-named Tejas and a slew of other products designed to make the desktop more compelling.

Although analysts and many PC makers often bemoan the lack of profits to be found in desktops, the machines still make up the majority of PCs sold. To that end, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker is developing new chips, technologies, PC prototypes and software to make desktops easier to own. Often this technology ends up in notebooks, but it typically starts on the desktop.

In 2003, for instance, Intel will release Granite Peak, a technology that essentially lets corporate information technology managers buy new PCs without having to worry about the expensive process of "qualifying," or extensively testing, these new machines on the company software. Granite Peak will ensure that the software image--software burned on company PCs--won't have to change for six quarters despite the fact that the processor has become faster. Currently, IT managers merely buy last year's machines to avoid changing the software image.

"This is one less thing (corporations) have to worry about," Louis Burns, vice president of Intel's desktop platforms group, said at the Intel Developer Forum here on Wednesday. "We will continue to aggressively gain market share."

Granite Peak will also make the software on notebooks and desktops look the same, further reducing qualification headaches.

In 2004, Intel will then come out with Azalia, a new audio technology that will improve speech recognition and voice over IP (Internet Protocol) telephone calls.

In the chips
Prescott will be based on the same basic NetBurst architecture of the Pentium 4, but will come with a number of improvements, Burns said. The chip will come with 1MB of cache, twice as much as current Pentium 4s, and 13 new instructions--computing pathways for handling specific tasks such as multimedia processing.

The chip, which is being shown off at the conference in a concept PC with two screens code-named Marble Falls, will also come with an enhanced version of hyperthreading--a technology introduced late last year to the Pentium 4--and an 800MHz bus, the data path between the processor and the outside world. Current Pentium 4 chips come with a 533MHz bus, which will soon be accelerated to 800MHz.

Tejas, coming a year later, will add further improvements to Prescott. Tejas will first appear in a PC code-named Powersville, which will feature PCI express interconnections. Burns declined to provide further details on Prescott or Tejas.

One feature Prescott won't have, though, is LaGrande, a technology to prevent outsiders from snooping on hard drives. At the last Developer Forum, Intel President Paul Otellini said that Prescott would come with LaGrande. Executives are now saying, however, that the circuitry to enable LaGrande will be in the chip, but will only be activated in future versions, possibly two to three years from now.

The problem is that operating systems need to tweak their software to take advantage of it, and Microsoft has not done so yet, said Mike Fister, general manager of Intel's enterprise platforms group.

In notebooks, Intel reiterated that Centrino, a family of chips for laptops, will come out March 12. So far, the acceptance of the chip among PC makers is high.

"We have more design wins for Centrino by a factor of four than we had with Pentium 4 at this time," said Anand Chandrasekher, general manager of the mobile products division at Intel.

Centrino notebooks will also last longer on a single battery charge, he said. Benchmark tests indicate that a 1.6GHz Centrino notebook can run 318 minutes on a single battery charge, or just over five hours.

Chandrasekher also showed off Newport, a notebook that will be similar to laptops appearing in 2004. Among other features, the systems come with a small screen on the outside of the notebook case that allows people to check e-mail or send messages. The design has percolated in the lab since 2001.