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Intel slips in a new Pentium 4

The chipmaker announces a new version of the Pentium 4 processor with an extra dose of cache, a move that seems calculated to undercut the launch of the Athlon64 from AMD next week.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel announced a new version of the Pentium 4 processor on Tuesday with an extra dose of cache, a move that seems calculated to undercut the launch of the Athlon64 from Advanced Micro Devices next week.

The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition will run at 3.2GHz and come with 2MB of level-three cache, said Louis Burns, executive vice president of the desktop platform group at Intel. Current Pentium 4 chips come with a 512KB secondary cache and no level-three cache. Increasing caches, reservoirs of memory located on the processor, typically boost performance.

Computer makers will begin to sell PCs with the chip in the next 30 to 60 days, Burns said.

"The performance boost is awesome," Burns said Tuesday during a speech at the Intel Developer Forum here.

Intel was able to beef up the caches quickly because the new Pentium 4 is actually the same basic chip as the Xeon MP with 2MB of level-three cache, a chip for multiprocessor servers that has been on the market for months. The new Pentium 4 comes in a different package and runs at a faster speed, but the two chips are essentially the same, an Intel spokesman said.

"It is a Xeon with a different pin-out, or least that's what it looks like to me," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64.

Brookwood, among others, noted that the chip comes out only days before AMD releases the Athlon64 on Sept. 23. The Athlon64 comes with an integrated memory controller and is expected to rival the Pentium 4 in performance and pass the chip in certain benchmarks. The additional cache gives Intel an extra layer of insurance in the performance contest between the two companies.

The Intel spokesman added that the chip was put on the company's product lineup only recently.

Like the new Pentium 4, the Athlon64 is also a server chip in disguise. The first Athlon64 processor will be identical to the Opteron, but it will be configured to fit into a desktop. Later, AMD will change the basic processor core on the Athlon64 to cut manufacturing costs. Sources close to AMD said it will sell that processor as the Athlon FX 51.

Intel did not disclose the price of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. It likely will be as expensive as its counterpart, the 2.8GHz Xeon with 2MB cache. That chip sells for $3,692 in quantities of 1,000.

"It absolutely will be kind of pricey," Brookwood said.