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Intel to unveil "Slot 2" chip design

At a conference later this week, Intel will detail its upcoming "Slot 2" Pentium II design and also give an overview of the 450-MHz Pentium II.

Later this week, Intel will publicly reveal details of its upcoming "Slot 2" Pentium II chip design for the first time and also give an overview of the 450-MHz Pentium II "Deschutes" processor, two product innovations that will likely be seen in servers and workstations in the second half of the year.

Intel's plans will be sketched out at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference sponsored by the Solid-State Circuits Society. The conference takes place from February 5 through February 7 in San Francisco.

The presentation will describe how the processor connects to the rest of the PC system, at first glance an arcane topic. In reality, it's crucial technology for the semiconductor and PC industries since it essentially determines the core design of a PC and which chip vendor dominates those designs.

Slot 2 technology does not refer to technology inside the processor itself, but instead refers both to how the processor connects to other components and to its housing. The Slot 2 design is expected to improve on Intel's Slot 1 concept--used on current Pentium II chips--in a number of ways.

As an example, the Slot 2 design increases the size of a chip's high-speed cache memory from 512KB to 2MB. Cache memory is independent, processor-focused memory that speeds the flow of data to a processor. More of it means more efficient processing and faster computers.

Slot 2 chips, which will be found first on servers and workstations, will also be capable of eight-way (eight-processor) multiprocessing. Current Pentium II processors are only capable of two-way, or two-processor, multiprocessing.

Intel has not licensed all of its intellectual property surrounding the slot designs to competitors. As a result, computer vendors and motherboard manufacturers cannot use processors from companies such as Advanced Micro Devices interchangeably with Pentium II chips.

Although competitors are devising strategies to adopt slot designs, they haven't revealed solutions yet. Cyrix has gained access to a good portion of the intellectual property required to build a Slot 1 or 2 processor, but has not committed to the design. Failure could strengthen Intel's dominance in the market and give the company a virtual lock on high-end X86 computing.

Along with specifications for the new slot configuration, Intel executives will provide details for its 450-MHz Pentium II chip with a 100-MHz system bus. This processor, expected by the end of the year, will likewise first appear in servers and workstations, although the chip will be capable of being used in desktops and mobile computers. Currently, the fastest Pentium II runs at 333 MHz and contains a 66 MHz system bus.

While faster processor speeds are always welcomed by users, the increase in the bus speed in many ways will be the larger event. The system bus controls the flow of data between the processor core and the rest of the computer.

Processor speeds have been moving up on a quarterly basis, but the system bus has been running at 66 MHz since the Pentium chip first came out years ago. Increasing the bus speed is expected to improve overall system performance. As an added bonus, a faster system bus also opens up the ceiling on processor core speeds.

The 100-MHz system bus will first appear on 350-MHz Deschutes processors released during the middle of the year.

The 450-MHz Pentium II will be made under the 0.25-micron manufacturing process and contain 7.5 million transistors.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.