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Intel introduces new P4s and chipset

The company announces three new Pentium 4 chips for desktop PCs, along with a new version of its 850 chipset, which could help it up the ante against rival AMD.

Intel is making May "megahertz month."

The chipmaker on Monday introduced three new Pentium 4 chips, including its fastest Pentium 4 to date, along with a new version of its 850 chipset. The new chipset offers a faster 533MHz bus and supports a speedier version of Rambus memory, 1066MHz RDRAM.

Intel's new flagship Pentium 4 will be a 2.53GHz chip. The other new Pentium 4 chips will run at 2.26GHz and 2.4GHz. All work with the faster bus.

Later in the month, Intel will introduce much faster Celeron chips.

The added clock speed, faster bus and new RDRAM translate into an overall desktop performance boost that helps Intel finally pull away from rival Advanced Micro Devices. The bus provides a data pathway between the processor and memory. Maintaining a proper ratio between the bus speed and the clock speed of the processor is an important element in preserving performance as processors get quicker.

Boosting the bus will make room for faster Pentium 4 processors. But it also helps Intel up the ante in its desktop performance race with AMD. Intel and AMD have been trading blows on the desktop since the introduction of the Athlon in late 1999.

A click or two ahead
Analysts say that the transition comes at a good time for Intel and should give it the upper hand for a while.

"The main issue that the companies try to compete over is who has performance leadership. This will put Intel one or two clicks above AMD for the time being," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

He added that raising the bus speed now addresses ahead of time performance limitations Intel that could eventually create.

Of course, AMD has several tricks up its sleeve, including Thoroughbred, a new processor that will bring higher clock speeds later in the year. In early 2003, PC makers will also begin shipping systems based on ClawHammer, a new chip that AMD says will begin at 2GHz speeds.

Currently, AMD's fastest desktop chip is the 1.73GHz Athlon XP 2100+. Despite the difference in clock speed, the Athlon chip offers competitive performance to the 2.4GHz Pentium 4, reviewers have said.

However, Intel's new 2.53GHz chip, with its higher clock speed and faster bus, pulls ahead in performance, according to several reviewers, including popular hardware sites such as Anandtech. Another popular site, TomsHardware, said the faster chip puts Intel ahead on all of its benchmark tests, at least for the time being.

While Intel pulls away with the 2.53GHz and its associated performance enhancements, AMD won't be far behind with its forthcoming 1.8GHz Athlon XP, the model number of which has yet to be announced.

Intel's introduction of the 2.53GHz Pentium 4 comes just about a month after the launch of its 2.4GHz chip, but the transition to a faster bus sets desktops up for a parade of faster chips in the future. For example, Intel has said that the Pentium 4 will reach 3GHz in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, raising the bus speed helps Intel make room for new Celeron chips based on Netburst, the processor architecture debuted with the Pentium 4. Forthcoming Celerons will jump from their current 133MHz bus to the 400MHz bus used by the current Pentium 4 platform, sources have said, and sport much higher clock speeds than current Celerons.

Later this month, the company is expected to debut its first Netburst Celeron chip, a processor that runs at about 1.6GHz, some 300MHz faster than its current Celeron offering. Meanwhile, a new, lower-cost version of its 845 chipset will help PC makers offer Netburst Celeron PCs at prices well below $1,000.

Now debuting on the high end
New high-end machines fitted with the 2.53GHz chip, the 533MHz bus, large allotments of RDRAM and 80GB or so hard drives are expected to start around $2,200 to $2,300.

Dell Computer, for example, will offer a Dimension 8200 with the 2.53GHz chip, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a 15-inch flat panel display for $2,299. However, the company will also offer similarly configured 8200s with the 2.26GHz and 2.4GHz chips for about $2,000 and $2,200, respectively.

The company's new flagship PC will be a Dimension 8200 fitted with the 2.53GHz chip, 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive, a high-end Nvidia Ti 4600 graphics card, a 17-inch flat panel display and a DVD+RW drive. It will sell for $2,999.

Gateway will also roll out new high-end PCs. Its Gateway 700XL will sport the 2.53GHz chip, 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive and a DVD-Recordable drive along with an 18-inch flat-panel display for $2,999.

The new Pentium 4 chips will also be available in Compaq Presario 6000 and Presario 8000 series PCs. Prices on the new machines will start at $1,599 and top out at about $2,999 for a 2.53GHz machine with a 15-inch flat-panel monitor.

The new 2.26GHz, 2.4GHz and 2.53GHz chips list for $423, $562 and $637, respectively.