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Pentium, PowerPC on collision course

The Pentium and the PowerPC are quietly preparing to do battle--again.

The Pentium and the PowerPC are quietly preparing to face off--again--for the title of the world's fastest PC chip.

The two major computer chip architectures are again competing head to head for clock speed and attention. One of the most prominent performance contests will be between superfast 603e and revved-up P55C microprocessors. The P55C is Intel's next-generation multimedia-enabled Pentium processor. The 603e PowerPC, targeted at the Mac OS world, is analogous to the Pentium and already runs as fast as 200 MHz.

Fast on the heels of its pricey PowerTower Pro systems announced today that are built around the new 604e PowerPC processor, Power Computing will follow with inexpensive 603e consumer systems running at speeds greater than 225 MHz, said industry sources familiar with Power Computing's plans. The new Power Computing consumer systems will be announced in August at MacWorld in Boston, sources said.

"These systems will be faster and cheaper than Pentium [PCs]...and substantially below $2,000," said the source familiar with the Power Computing Systems.

Meanwhile, however, Intel is planning P55C Pentium processors for release in 1997 that feature the company's MMX technology and will run as fast as 266 MHz, industry sources said. Intel is moving to a cutting-edge 0.25-micron manufacturing process for its next-generation chips, and P55C processors can accordingly be expected to run at higher speeds, an Intel official said.

But the PowerPC platform has a window of opportunity : The P55C Pentium due to ship in the fourth quarter will top out at 200 MHz, Intel said. That means that PowerPC-based systems have a chance--until Intel ratchets up the speed of the P55C in 1997--to beat out comparable Pentium systems, analysts say.

"They have to do this to hang on to the existing body of clientele," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at marketing research firm Dataquest.

The current 200-MHz 603e is a little slower than a Pentium, which is less than compelling for system vendors who use this chip or might be tempted to, according to Brookwood. But other analysts say a PowerPC 603e processor that could run at least as fast as 225 MHz would be decidedly faster than a 200-MHz Pentium.

Translation: the pressure is on Intel to go faster more quickly.

"Look at it this way. Intel is going to ship about 4 million Pentium Pros in 1996, and the industry will ship about 60 million Pentium systems," Brookwood said. "You cannot flip the whole platform to Pentium Pro into 1997. So, Intel has to have a faster, more compelling Pentium product in 1997."

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