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Intel chips to get smaller, cheaper

The chip giant is shifting to the 0.18-micron manufacturing process, which will boost processor performance and integrate more functions.

Intel will graduate to a more advanced processor technology by the middle of the year, a shift that will boost performance, cut costs, integrate more functions onto the processor, and let the company get rid of the "Slot 1" package.

The chipmaker today will provide more details on its shift to the 0.18-micron manufacturing process. The micron measurement refers to the dimension of the circuits on a microprocessor.

Current Intel processors are made on the 0.25-micron manufacturing process. Smaller circuits mean a smaller overall chip is needed, which means lower costs. In addition, electrons have to cover less ground on smaller chips, which boosts speeds.

A shift from 0.35 microns to 0.25 microns in 1997 yielded gains in performance and cost. A shift to 0.18 will result in Pentium III chips running at around 700 MHz before the end of the year that will likely cost less than the historical equivalents in the Pentium II line.

In addition, Intel will further outline its plans for integrating security features, such as serial numbers and random number generators, that will allow PC makers to build encryption and e-commerce features into Pentium III machines.

The shift to 0.18 microns will yield similar, but different results. With these chips, Intel is going to start integrating more functions onto the processor. Coppermine and Cascades, the first to chips to be made under the new process, will contain 256KB of integrated cache memory, said sources. Current Pentium IIs have 512KB of secondary cache memory, but it sits alongside the processor and is not part of the same piece of silicon.

As a result, the Coppermine and Cascades chips will be roughly close in size to current Pentium II processors, but will include the neighboring secondary cache, according to Linley Gwennap, publisher of MicroDesign Resources. Integration will allow Intel to cut out costs related to buying additional cache memory.

The expensive Slot 1 package can also disappear because its primary function was to house the separate memory cache. The company, in fact, has said new chip package designs are coming for the second half.

The advent of 0.18-micron will also mean that nearly all Intel chips will be integrated in the future. Monday, the company is coming out with "Dixon" a series of mobile Pentium II chips with 256KB of integrated memory. Celerons already contain integrated memory. Coppermine and Cascades will introduce the concept to the mainstream Pentium and Xeon lines.