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PC of future packs 350 MHz, DVD

Intel demonstrates a machine with a 350-MHz Pentium II and its new graphics chip, as well as DVD playback features.

Intel (INTC) today demonstrated a next-generation PC that should be adept at playing back DVD titles directly on the PC when it hits the market in volume by mid-1998.

The PC was chock-full of unannounced technologies likely to appear in mainstream PCs by 1998, according to Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of the desktop products group at Intel.

First and foremost, the PC had a 350-MHz Pentium II processor. Currently Pentium II processors top out at 300 MHz. (The Macintosh currently has PowerPC processors running as fast as 350 MHz.)

The system also featured Intel?s upcoming 740 graphics chip, due next year in volume availability. The 740 marks Intel?s entry into the graphics chip business, a significant event since it means Intel will be moving into yet another major PC chip market. Intel is the subject of an ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation, since graphics chip vendors such as S3 have complained about the deleterious impact on competition that this may have.

The system also uses Intel?s next-generation high-speed "bus," which contributes to boosting the overall performance of the PC. The new bus runs at 100 MHz, an improvement on the current Pentium and Pentium II bus, which runs no faster than 66 MHz. This technology is expected to appear next year. The bus is a critical data path in a PC since it is the conduit by which the processor talks to the rest of the PC.

Intel is now working with DRAM memory chip manufacturers in order to make sure that the super-fast DRAM chips which work with this bus are available in quantity when the 100-MHz bus technology is commercialized.

Gelsinger demonstrated the prototype system playing back full-screen, DVD titles using MPEG-2 playback technology. Intel claims DVD titles such as movies can be played back directly on Pentium II with no assistance from special hardware and with no image degradation. The expected benefit of running DVD software directly on the Pentium II is that no extra hardware means no extra cost.

However, this is tempered by the fact that if a user begins to run other applications simultaneously, the image begins to degrade--lending support to the argument that extra hardware to accelerate DVD playback may be desirable in some cases.

Intel also stressed that playing DVD movies such as Batman on a PC will be a popular application in 1998.

However, at least on PC vendor took issue with some of these Intel presumptions. Officials from Micron said that they favor including the extra DVD hardware in their systems for the foreseeable future. Micron is currently using DVD playback hardware from Chromatic Research. Micron also expects few PC users to watch movies on their PC. The company expects DVD games to be the biggest attraction.

Interestingly, an Intel engineer also pointed out the benefits of having dedicated hardware to playback DVD : He said this frees up the Pentium II dramatically to do other computing tasks.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.