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New Intel design to cut costs

Next year, Intel will release a version of the low-cost Celeron chip that abandons "Slot 1" architecture synonymous with the Pentium II.

NEW YORK--To further cut manufacturing costs on its low-end chips while beginning its move into information appliances, Intel will release a version of the Celeron processor next year that abandons the "Slot 1" architecture that has become synonymous with the Pentium II.

The new chip package, currently called "370 Pin Socket," will eschew the long, steel, grooved connector of Slot 1 Pentium II chips. Instead, the new processors will be mounted into circuit boards through a series of metal pins. They will look more like traditional microprocessors, said Manny Vara, an Intel spokesman.

The new design is aimed mostly at cutting packaging costs, both for Intel and computer vendors.

Generally larger than other desktop processors, Slot 1 chips cost more to produce in terms of raw materials. Both the company and various analysts have said that the additional cost has been one of the reasons Intel's gross margins have dipped this year.

The chip design is not slated to replace Slot 1 processors, Vara pointed out. Intel will market two versions of the Celeron. The first of the new chips will come out in the first half of 1999 and run at 300 MHz and 333 MHz. In contrast, 300-MHz and 333-MHz Slot 1 Celeron processors with 128K of integrated memory will come out in the second half of this year.

In other respects the Celeron processors in the new pin socket design will be identical to those based around a Slot 1 design. Processors based under either design will contain 128K of integrated cache memory and employ the "P6" system bus. The system bus controls communication between the processor and main memory.

The 370 chips will not be compatible with the venerable Pentium (or so-called Socket 7) chips, the design used by Advanced Micro Devices and some other manufacturers. The incompatibility will in all likelihood prompt detractors to claim that Intel is once again using its own proprietary architectures to lock out competition. Intel employed this design for earlier Pentium chips.

At the moment, Intel is the only company that makes processors based around the P6 bus, a situation which some observers say gives the company undue advantage in the marketplace. The relative monopoly on the P6 bus is one of the issues the Federal Trade Commission is probing.

Along with cutting costs, the 370 Pin design will enable computer vendors to build smaller systems. The chip will mount on Intel's Micro ATX motherboard, slated to be used in upcoming "micro-tower" systems. Similar in shape to "mini-tower" systems, micro-tower computers are much smaller and designed to fit on desks. Due later this year, micro-towers will stand around 11 inches high, according to various sources, as opposed to 17 inches for a mini-tower.

The new chip will also find its way into information appliances, said other sources. Intel said earlier this year that Celeron chips will begin to appear in set-top boxes in the "backto school" time frame in 1999.

The company has been looking at packaging costs on low-end chips for some time. Mike Aymar, vice president of Intel's consumer division, told CNET NEWS.COM in December that Intel was examining alternatives to Slot 1 packaging for inexpensive computing segments.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.