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Pentium 4 delay due to graphics chip glitch

PC makers confirm that a problem with how the 850 chipset interacts with PCI graphics cards is responsible for the delay in delivery.

Intel's delay delivering Pentium 4 processors stems from a chipset problem the company has now corrected.

As first reported by CNET News.com, Intel pushed back delivery of the Pentium 4 to Nov. 20 from Oct. 30. The delay means some PC manufacturers will not be able to deliver systems with the new processor in time for the lucrative holiday sales rush.

Sources at PC makers, speaking under request of anonymity, confirmed that a problem with how the 850 chipset interacts with PCI graphics cards was responsible for the Pentium 4 delay.

PCI graphics cards are mostly of interest to workstation customers who want to add a second graphics chip, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. In years past, most graphics chips connected to the chipset and processor through PCI graphics cards. For the past few years, most manufacturers have migrated to the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP), which transfers data at a higher rate. However, only one graphics chip can connect through the AGP slot.

"There are several critical paths to a chipset," Brookwood said. "Every time you have one of these last-minute glitches, it screws up the launch."

Last year, for instance, Intel discovered a glitch with the 820 chipset that pushed the launch of the "Coppermine" Pentium III processors from September to October. The problem with the 820 chipset involved how the chipset functioned with Rambus-based memory, or RDRAM. The 850 chipset also connects to RDRAM, but that so far has not surfaced as a problem.

At least one PC maker that asked not to be identified praised Intel's decision to hold up the Pentium 4, even though the problem affected only a small number of customers.

Intel's grappling with the Pentium 4 delay underscores other recent technical gaffes. On Friday, Intel canceled Timna, a chip for the budget market that was delayed earlier. Timna was canceled because problems with a companion chip, called the Memory Translator Hub (MTH), were still not fixed. The MTH would have allowed PC makers to combine Timna with regular memory, instead of the more expensive RDRAM. Improvements in motherboards and existing chips had also eliminated the cost-cutting advantages Timna was supposed to provide.

A problem with an MTH included in budget PCs prompted a recall of some Pentium III computers last spring.

Two weeks ago, Intel stunned Wall Street with a third-quarter profit warning, forecasting revenue growth about 9 percent lower than previously expected.

In August, Intel recalled the 1.13-GHz Pentium III processor. Two PC makers said they expect to begin selling systems with a revised version of the chip by about the third week of October.