Tech Industry

700-MHz, integrated Pentium IIs for 1999

Intel is releasing a Pentium II, code-named Dixon, with more integrated "cache" memory to boost performance.

In 1999, Intel will boost the speed of its Xeon chips to 700 MHz, desktop Pentium IIs to 600 MHz, and mobile chips to 366 MHz, according to sources, while the company will also release its first Pentium II with high-speed "cache" memory integrated directly onto the processor.

Intel will introduce a 333-MHz Pentium II that integrates a super-fast 256 kilobyte cache memory chip. Code-named Dixon, the chip is slated to appear in the first half of the year, according to sources. Cache memory is critical for boosting a chip's performance.

Dixon was initially expected to be a part of the low-cost Celeron family of chips, said sources, but Intel is now saying it will not be a Celeron product. Celeron processors, found in a variety of low-cost consumer and business systems, are relatively slow because currently they don't contain the peformance-enhancing cache like Pentium II chips do.

Intel in 1999: What to expect
Xeon: 700-MHz chips made under the 0.18 micron process.

Pentium II: 600-MHz chips by end of year. Katmai ("MMX 2") technology in Q1. Chips with 256K integrated cache memory will appear in the first half, before coming in the Celeron line.

Hardware support: Native support for USB (universal serial bus), DVD, and TV tuner add-in cards.

Celeron: 100-MHz bus in the first half. Technology will lag Pentium II to preserve segmentation. Far in future: integration with graphics chips a possibility.

Mobile: Celeron mobile chips in Q1, chips with integrated cache memory to follow.

Intel has already said it will add and integrate cache memory into its Celeron chips later this year. Dixon represents the first instance of integration in the Pentium II line. Most Pentium IIs now come with 512K of cache located elsewhere in the processor cartridge.

One reason for the purported readjustment comes from performance, theorized Michael Slater, founder of MicroDesign Resources, citing one of the finer points of chip architecture that only technophiles may be able to appreciate: With an integrated 256K of cache memory right on the chip, Dixon will be faster than the current Pentium II chip design which has twice the amount of cache--but located off-chip.

In other words, selling Dixon as a Celeron-brand chip would mean selling a $100 to $200 low-end part that works better than Pentium II parts starting at $200. "Integration is not the basis of segmentation," Slater said. Price is.

Intel declined to discuss Dixon in detail, as the product is unannounced. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

On other fronts, technology continues progressing at a breakneck pace. Despite a flurry of financial, legal, and product setbacks this year, Intel's plan for chip development and speed upgrades is surpassing earlier roadmaps.

Chips made on the more advanced 0.18-micron manufacturing process

Intel's '98-'99 CPU strategy
will come out in the second quarter of 1999, one quarter earlier than expected, according to the company, while megahertz upgrades for mobile processors and Celeron chips have already been advanced. "Katmai," a new technology that will boost the chips ability to handle multimedia and scientific applications, has also already been shifted up for a Q1 release.

Price cuts also continue. Another round of price cuts will occur later this month, dropping the price of the 400-MHz Pentium II to approximately $550. Price cuts are also slated for September and October of this year.

Some of 1999's highlights of the product roadmap, according to MicroDesign Resources, will unfold as follows:

  • For high-end Xeon processors, intended for workstations and servers, the next milestone will be the release of 450-MHz processors in September. These chips will also be the first capable of incorporating up to 2MB of secondary cache memory. These more powerful 2MB chips wills sell for close to $3,600, according to Technology Business Research. 400-MHz Xeon chips now hold up to 1MB of secondary cache.

    In Q1 1999, Intel will follow with a 500-MHz version code named "Tanner." Tanner will come in the Xeon "Slot 2" package, but will also likely fit into the "Slot M" package that will be used with Merced. Tanner thus will serve as a transition to the 64-bit Merced platform.

    By the second quarter, Xeon manufacturing will shift from the current 0.25-micron manufacturing process to the .18-micron manufacturing process. This will make the chips smaller as well as more efficient.

    In the second half, Xeons running at 700 MHz will likely be released, although it is uncertain as yet if Intel will hit this mark. Slater characterized a 700-MHz milestone as "reasonably aggressive."

  • Pentium II desktop chips will go to 450 MHz in September, 500 MHz in the first quarter of 1999, and then to 600 MHz toward the latter part of the year. In addition, the 500-MHz chips will be the first to include the Katmai instructions, sometimes called MMX 2. The integrated Dixon part will come out in the first half of 1999, as described above.

  • Celeron development will follow a similar pattern, but remain a few steps back. Celeron, Xeon, and Pentium II chips all share the same basic processor core, noted Slater, but Intel will likely maintain differences on speed and performance to justify their product segmentation strategy.

    300-MHz and 333-MHz Celeron chips with integrated 128KB of cache memory, code-named Mendocino, will come out in the second half of this year. The Celeron line's next major shift will likely come in the first half of 1999 with the 100-MHz system bus. Celeron processors currently utilize an older 66-MHz system bus.

    Celeron speeds will reach up to 400-MHz by the second half of the year, according to MicroDesign Resources.

    Two to three years from now, Intel may even move to integrating the chipset and graphics functions into the processor itself, Slater said. "The trend is inexorable here," he said.

  • The mobile line will see the addition of the Dixon chip and a mobile Celeron in the first half, according to an Intel spokeswoman. The two are separate chips. "Dixon is not a Celeron product," the spokeswoman said. Speeds for 1999 will reach 366, according to MicroDesign Resources.

    Meanwhile, despite declining prices, Intel will likely stabilize its price segments in 1999. Xeon chips will sell from roughly $1,000 to $4,000 and beyond; Pentium II processors will sell for between $200 to $800; and Celeron chips will sell for between $100 and $200.