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Intel tilts to system-on-a-chip

Intel will continue to integrate features, including 3D graphics and audio, as part of its effort to become more competitive in the low-cost market.

As part of a presentation today on future chips, Intel (INTC) said it will continue to put more features, including 3D graphics and audio, into the processor and supporting chips as part of its effort to become more competitive in the low-cost market.

Albert Yu, general manager of Intel's

Albert Yu
Albert Yu
Microprocessor Product Group, also spelled out the road map for future chips appearing in high-performance PCs, workstations, servers, and notebook PCs.

But chip integration appears to be Intel's newest bent. Yu confirmed today that Intel is developing highly integrated silicon, which combines many of the main chips in a PC today into just a few chips. Specifically, Yu said Intel is now eyeing a design which incorporates 3D graphics. "We're trying to combine graphics, [processors], and memory in a clever way," he said.

Sources familiar with Intel's future chip products said the company is targeting the low-cost PC market with this integrated design. A Pentium II processor with integrated high-speed memory and an accompanying chipset which includes both graphics and sound capability is on the drawing board for the low-end market, the sources said.

Currently, these functions are spread across a number of separate chips.

Toward the end of this year, the company will release its first low-cost Pentium II that delivers high performance. The 266-MHz "Mendocino" chip will get an extra performance boost by integrating extra high-speed memory directly onto the same piece of silicon the Pentium II processor resides on.

Prior to this, in the spring, Intel will release its first low-cost processors, code-named

Intel road map
Low-cost PCs
Current
233-MHz Pentium MMX
Future
April 1998:
Covington (266-MHz "cacheless" Pentium II)
2nd half 1998:
Mendocino (266-MHz Pentium II with built-in L2 memory)
1999:
Pentium II chipset w/ integrated graphics, audio
Performance PCs
Current
333-MHz Pentium II
with 66-MHz bus

Future
Mid 1998:
350-, 400-MHz Pentium II with 100-MHz bus
End 1998:
450-MHz Pentium II
1999:
Katmai instruction set (formerly MMX 2)
Servers/workstations
Current
Pentium Pro, Pentium II
Future
2nd half 1998:
"Slot 2" Pentium II at
400, 450 MHz

Late 1999:
64-bit Merced
Mobile
Current
266-MHz Pentium MMX
Future
Spring 1998:
300-MHz Pentium II
"Covington." This 266-MHz Pentium II processor is not a high-performance chip since the extra high-speed cache memory will be removed. (See related story)

Notebook PCs will get 233-, 266-, and 300-MHz Pentium II processors this year, Yu said. These will come in so-called mini-cartridges as well as smaller "modules."

For servers and workstations, the "Slot 2" architecture will dominate the high end in the latter part of this year. These chips will come out at 400 MHz, increasing to 450 MHz, and communicate with other components in the computer at a speed of 100 MHz. These Slot 2 machines will also have memory chips that run as fast as the processor, another new development. So, for example, a chip that runs at 400 MHz will have memory that runs at 400 MHz, Yu said.

Yu also claimed that Slot 2 servers packed with four processors will deliver the database performance of 10-processor systems today.

Finally, Intel's first 64-bit chip, the Merced processor, will debut in 1999. This will integrate many processing units into one powerful processor to achieve what Intel calls a "high degree of parallelism."

Despite all the high-end talk, it was tough to miss Yu's emphasis on low-cost computers. The subject lead off his keynote speech, as it topped Andy Grove's presentation yesterday, and seemed to occupy most of his time. The value segment now accounts for 40 percent of the PC market, he said.

"We have a huge amount of resources on the basic PC. We will have more and more products coming in this segment," Yu said. "We have some of the best minds looking at it."

Interestingly enough, Yu did not comment on any plans Intel has for set-top boxes or handheld devices.

One reason for that might be marketability, pointed out Dean McCarron, principal at Mercury Research. The TV set-top box really doesn't exist yet in volume. As a result, Intel's interest is fairly muted. Similar ambivalence surrounds the handheld market. The company has undertaken two to three pilot projects for developing embedded projects, but has not committed vast resources to the effort because, most likely, of the current size and dynamics of the market.

Intel in an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.