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Intel: Faster chips needed to run Windows 2000

Despite assurances from Microsoft that its new operating system will perform adequately on existing computers, the chipmaker says many will need to upgrade their PCs.

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.--Longtime partners Microsoft and Intel appear at odds over a key question of processor power needed to run Windows 2000.

Despite assurances from Microsoft that the new business operating system will perform adequately on a wide variety of computers, chipmaker Intel maintains consumers are going to necessarily gravitate toward faster machines. Intel, in fact, underestimated the power required when planning its own, in-house Windows 2000 upgrades and ended up spending an additional $50 million to finish the job, an Intel executive said.

Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop products group, said in a speech that Windows 2000 requires up to 250 more megahertz of chip power for performance equivalent to Windows 98 or the corporate Windows NT. That seemed to be a fairly large--and surprising--speed boost, according to analysts at the Intel Developer Forum here.

"Most of today's newest software will run on previous versions of our processors, but for best performance--including Windows 2000--you'll have the best experience or performance on a Pentium III or Pentium III Xeon processor," Intel spokesperson Christine Chartier said.

The announcement symbolizes the widening gap in the strategies of the two companies, whose partnership has been so close that it has been dubbed "Wintel" within the industry. For years, the companies have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, given Intel's commanding position in the chip market and Microsoft's control of roughly 95 percent of the operating system business for PCs.

The two have parted ways before to expand various business interests, though such instances are not common. For example, Intel has bankrolled companies that sell the Linux operating system, which directly competes with Microsoft's Windows operating system.

A Windows 2000 product manager today defended Microsoft's recommended configuration as adequate to run the operating system.

"According to independent tests...Windows 2000 Professional is up to 39 percent faster than Windows 95, 30 percent faster than Windows 98 and up to 24 percent faster than Windows NT Workstation 4.0 using current hardware configured with 64 MB of memory or higher," Craig Beilinson, Microsoft's lead product manager of Windows 2000, said in an email interview. "We're thrilled to be providing faster performance with Windows 2000 Professional across the board."

Moreover, Intel has a vested interest in the need for speedier chips. It is the largest producer of processors in the world and generally banks on a sharp increase in processor orders to coincide with the release of a new operating system from Microsoft.

Yet PC makers and industry analysts seem to back Intel's claims, though they are more pragmatic about the technical resources Windows 2000 demands. Dell Computer is unofficially recommending that its customers install the new operating system on a PC with no less than a 400-MHz Celeron processor and 128MB of memory.

Gartner Group recommends at least a Pentium II-based system with 128MB of memory. Competitive Systems Analysts, another research group, recently conducted a study testing various Windows 2000 scenarios across both single- and dual-processor PCs from Dell. They concluded that PCs will need the equivalent of a 200-MHz processor upgrade to run Windows 2000 at the same performance level as Windows NT 4.

The need for speed stems largely from new features added to Windows 2000, Intel said. Microsoft claims that Windows 2000 will run adequately on computers with a 133-MHz Pentium processor and 64MB of RAM--a claim many in the PC industry say may be unrealistic.

For Microsoft customers, the heftier resource requirements mean that the move to Windows 2000 may require the purchase of new PCs with faster processors and more memory.

Although faster chips are Windows 2000: The next generationproduced all the time, a 600-MHz processor remains in the upper half of the performance spectrum. Such chips came out just last year, which means that most PCs now being used contain chips that are largely below that mark.

Internally, Intel already has gone down this upgrade path. The company invested in a round of new computers as part of its own adoption of Windows 2000, said Richard Dracott, marketing manager at Intel. Typically, the PCs bought to run Windows 2000 have come with chips running at 600 MHz or faster, he said, adding that this was not a recommendation or an official stance, but merely Intel's experience.

"If you're running Windows 4.0 on a Pentium II 400-MHz, you are going to need a 550-MHz" to achieve equivalent performance, Dracott said.

Intel started its own Windows 2000 PC purchasing strategy in 1996, Dracott said, but it underestimated the computing resources needed for the new operating system.

"We bought too low," he said, estimating that the incremental expenses associated with upgrading software, training services and the entire Intel computing "ecosystem" as a result of installing Windows 2000 would be around $50 million.

News.com's Joe Wilcox contributed to this report.