Intel cranks out new Pentium 4

The company serves up a large helping of megahertz with five new Pentium 4 processors, which are expected to spawn a number of new desktop PC models.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
5 min read
Intel on Monday served up a large helping of megahertz with five new Pentium 4 processors for desktop PCs.

The new Pentium 4s, which are expected to spawn a number of new desktop PC models, include three chips based on a fresh processor design, code-named Prescott. Intel also is adding two new versions of its current Pentium 4, dubbed Northwood. A sixth chip, running at 3.4GHz, will be announced Monday, but it won't be available until later in the quarter.

The first Prescott chips run at speeds of 2.8GHz, 3GHz and 3.2GHz, Intel said. The chipmaker will distinguish Prescott chips from Northwoods by marking them with an "E." The chips--with the exception of the 3.4EGHz--are available in systems Monday. The 3.4EGHz is expected around March, a source familiar with Intel's plans said.

Intel's two new Northwood Pentium 4s will run at 3.4GHz. One version, a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip, will serve the uppermost reaches of the PC market, mainly game players and other PC enthusiasts. A standard 3.4GHz Northwood Pentium 4 will help to fill the gap until the 3.4EGHz Prescott chip arrives.

Intel often allows different generations of processors to overlap. The measure helps PC makers, especially those serving businesses, manage the transition from one generation to the next. This time, Pentium 4 Prescott and Northwood desktop chips will coexist at clock speeds ranging from 2.8GHz to 3.4GHz.

Prescott Pentium 4s offer about the same performance as their Northwood counterparts, when measured at the same clock speeds, Intel said. A 3.2EGHz Prescott chip offered 14 percent more performance than a similar Northwood in a test produced by Intel.

But Prescott includes a number of updates and changes, such as 1MB of cache--twice that of Northwood--and several new instructions, designed to increase the Pentium 4's multimedia savvy, Intel said.

The changes in Prescott's underlying circuitry will also help it reach much higher levels of performance and scale to greater clock speeds over time, Intel said. The Prescott Pentium 4 will reach 4GHz by the end of the year, said Bill Siu, general manager of Intel's Desktop Products Division.

"Our focus is really on the scalability of the product. What we've done...will enable us to scale it to much higher frequency," Siu said.

Pipeline promises
As expected, the rapid increase in clock speed will be aided by a longer, 31-stage pipeline, Siu confirmed.

As previously reported, Siu said the Prescott chip will take advantage of Intel's latest 90-nanometer manufacturing process, making it smaller, measuring 112 square millimeters versus Northwood's 132, and thus cheaper to produce.

Although Intel is offering a mix of the two chips at first, it plans to rapidly increase production of the Prescott Pentium 4, with the aim of proliferating the chip as quickly as possible. As part of that effort, Intel priced Prescott Pentium 4 chips the same as existing Northwood chips, to entice PC makers to make the switch. Intel often uses price as a tool to motivate PC makers to move to its new chips, analysts say.

Indeed, James Oliver, product marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard's desktop PC products, had this to say: "If Prescott was higher-priced, we'd probably still offer it, but given that (Intel) has priced it the same, it makes it easer for us to offer the better technology across the whole (desktop) line."

HP plans to offer Prescott chips in HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario desktops that are sold direct to customers, at first. It will start taking orders on them Wednesday.

A Compaq Presario 6000T desktop, for example, will come with a 2.8EGHz Prescott chip, 256MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a CD-ROM for $749 before rebates, Oliver said.

Gateway will also offer Prescott Pentium 4s in its 510 and 710 desktops, without raising its prices. A 510G desktop will feature a 2.8EGHz Prescott and start at $1,099, the company said.

Dell plans to fit some of the new chips into its Dimension desktops and also won't increase prices. Its Dimension XPS game machine will be offered with either the 3.2EGHz Pentium 4, the 3.4GHz Northwood Pentium 4 or the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. With the 3.2EGHz chip, the machine will start at $1,799.

Dell will offer the 3.4GHz Northwood Pentium 4 on its Dimension 8300 at first, and will add the 3EGHz and 3.2EGHz Prescott chips by the middle of February, the company said. The 3.4GHz Dimension will start near $1,350.

A number of other PC makers, ranging from IBM to Micro Center, will add desktops with Prescott chips as well.

Chip prices
To help make room for its new crop of Prescott Pentium 4 chips, Intel cut prices Sunday by as much as 33 percent on some of its existing Northwood Pentium 4s. The chipmaker lowered its 3.2GHz Pentium 4 by 33 percent, from $417 to $278. It dropped the 3GHz chip 22 percent to $218 and cut the 3.06GHz chip by 17 percent to the same price.

The two chips differ in their front-side bus. The 3.06GHz chip's bus operates at 533MHz, and the 3GHz chip's operates at a speedier 800MHz. Computer buses provide a bridge for data to travel from one component to another.

Intel also trimmed the price of its 2.8GHz Pentium 4 with an 800MHz bus by 18 percent to $178. The 2.8GHz chip with a 533MHz bus moved down 16 percent to $163. The new 3.4GHz Northwood Pentium 4 chip will cost $417, while the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip will list for $999.

With the price changes, Intel's newer Prescott chips match the Northwood chips in price. The 3.4EGHz chip lists for $417, while the 3.2EGHz lists for $278 and the 3EGHz, $218. The 2.8EGHz is $218. Intel also quietly added a 2.8AGHz Prescott chip, which comes with a 533MHz bus, for $163; it's likely for low-priced desktops. All the other Prescott Pentium 4s offer an 800MHz bus.

While Prescott promises higher clock speeds, many of the changes coming to desktops this year will result from updated chipsets, or groups of enabling chips that handle data inside a PC. This spring, a chipset code-named Grantsdale is expected to let a PC act as a wireless network access point.

Intel also dropped prices on mobile Pentium 4 chips, a version of the processor for notebooks, by between 15 percent and 32 percent.