Intel super-sizes Pentium 4 chip

The company's upcoming Pentium 4 will be more than twice as big as the Pentium III and approximately 28 percent bigger than anticipated, an increase that will boost Intel's manufacturing cost.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
5 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel's upcoming Pentium 4 will be more than twice as big as the Pentium III and approximately 28 percent bigger than anticipated, an increase that will boost Intel's manufacturing cost and limit the number of chips produced.

The Pentium 4 will measure 217 square millimeters, according to several sources at the Intel Developer Forum, which began today in San Jose, Calif. The current Pentium III and Celeron chips, by contrast, take up about 100 square millimeters.

Analysts earlier predicted the chip would measure 170 square millimeters. Intel representatives would not confirm the size of the new chip.

The larger size will allow Intel to pack several new features into the processor, including a "Rapid Execution Engine" that will run at twice the speed of the chip. The Pentium 4 will contain 42 million transistors. A year from now, commercial versions of the chip will run at 2 GHz, predicted The Linley Group principal analyst Linley Gwennap, a speed Intel hit during a demonstration during the conference today.

The larger size also will add to the company's manufacturing costs because the chip will contain twice the amount of raw materials.

"It limits how cheaply they can make it," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

In addition, the large size will limit, initially, the number of chips that can be produced. Because the chips are being produced with the same manufacturing technologies as the Pentium III, the real estate requirements of the Pentium 4 mean Intel will be able to squeeze only half as many of the new chips out of a single wafer.

The company is also still struggling with a capacity shortage, so there is a finite amount of factory space it can dedicate to the new chip.

"It's about two times the (size of) Pentium III," said Kevin Krewell, an analyst at MicroDesign Resources, who added that his firm, among others, believed earlier that the chip would measure around 170 square millimeters.

The number of "bad" chips per wafer also increases as processors get larger, added Peter Glaskowsky, also an analyst at MicroDesign.

Intel will get some relief next year, however, as the company shifts from the 0.18-micron manufacturing process to the 0.13-micron process, which will shrink the Pentium 4. (The micron measurements refer to the size of elements of the chip.) In addition, the company late next year will move from using wafers that measure 200 millimeters in diameter to ones that measure 300 millimeters, which will increase more than double the number of processors that can be produced on each wafer.

Still, until the 0.13-micron shrink, "It is going to be painful for them to produce," Gwennap said.

The Pentium 4 will come out in the fourth quarter and run, initially, at 1.4 GHz.

The size of the chip is one of a number of details expected to emerge during the next three days at the forum. The twice-yearly event is used to unveil initiatives in PC and processor architecture as well as to lay out the company's product road map. Among some of the other news at the conference:

 Intel will begin to promote peer-to-peer networking to corporations as a way to increase computing power, CEO Craig Barrett said in his keynote address today. By linking computers in a way that they can share resources, corporations will be able to maximize how hard disk space or memory is used, he said. One person short on hard drive space, for example, will be able to draw on the drive of another person in the network.

Napster is one of the first successful examples of peer-to-peer, but it is only a start, Barrett said. "Napster is kind of a red herring because it is the most recognizable form," he said.

Intel chief technology officer Pat Gelsinger will give a presentation on the subject tomorrow.

 The Timna chip, designed for ultra-low-cost computers, will come out in the first quarter of 2001, said Albert Yu, senior vice president of Intel's Architecture Group. The chip has been delayed because of a component that allows the chip to work with standard memory. Originally, it had been designed for Rambus memory. Sources earlier added that a mobile version of Timna will come out in the second quarter.

 Intel is encouraging software developers and hardware manufacturers to work to reduce the overall power consumption of Intel-based notebooks. Barrett said his dream notebook would be 0.5 inches thick, weigh 2 pounds, contain a 1-GHz processor, and run eight hours on a battery charge.

"I just think there is a consumer design style for thin and light," he said, adding that short battery life "is the killer problem."

Transmeta, a competitor to Intel, plans to release processors that consume less power than Intel's.

 Intel, as well as PC manufacturers, will vigorously pursue Internet appliances as a way to bring non-PC owners to the Internet, Barrett said. Inexpensive access devices could well be popular in developing nations, where PC penetration is low.

While Intel will make devices, the company will largely seek profits in providing back-end hardware, and even software, for networks that hook up these units, Barrett said.

Recently, Intel released the Dot.Station, an Internet terminal for homes. Along with the appliance, Intel released server software that allowed ISPs to update the software inside the devices.

"The real opportunity here is for the mobile and fixed access points to interact. These two worlds are going to come together and complement each other," he said.

 Intel will announce tomorrow a new version of the StrongArm chip for handhelds and cell phones, along with a new brand name. While these devices are growing in popularity, they don't yet threaten the PC.

"There isn't much to immediately threaten the PC in that space," Barrett said. "The BlackBerry (mobile email device) is only useful because I have a PC at my desk. The Palm is only useful because it is an adjunct to the PC."

 Intel is still dedicated to using Rambus memory in high-end systems, but the market will decide whether the memory is adopted in budget computers.

"It really depends on how quickly the cost of RDRAM goes down," Barrett said.

Although the Pentium 4 was initially to be coupled only with Rambus memory, Intel has already said it will come out with a chipset that lets the processor use standard memory.

Yu also added that Intel will license technology that will let third parties make Pentium 4-compatible chipsets.