HEAD: Intel drives up speed of its processors

Not willing to be overtaken in the fast lane, Intel Corp. revved up the speed of its 32-bit processor and demonstrated a 1.5GHz chip at the Intel Developer’s Forum last month.

The demonstration of the Santa Clara, Calif.-computing giant’s latest 32-bit architecture chip, code-named Willamette, came on the heels of a 1.1GHz chip demonstrated by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. earlier in February.

Though some doubt the need for chips that process information at 1.5 billion bits per second, Intel’s chairman Andrew S. Grove was quick to defend the need for such high performance in a keynote address at the developer’s forum.

“A new class of killer apps is emerging,” Grove said. “The Internet is driven by the power of 10, and faster performance will be needed for applications such as security to circumvent attacks by crackers.

“Things like on-the-fly encryption and increased security will help solve these problems. The reason they aren’t used right now is that they slow down desktop performance too much. We’re committed to providing enough power [so] that will no longer be an issue.”

Grove also pointed to e-business as a case for faster processing power. “Knowledge is power. The total data of business is doubling every year and a half.”

Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s vice-president and general manager of the desktop products group, said benchmarks conducted by Intel demonstrated that faster chips decreased the time it took to load complex Web pages.

“Performance does matter on the Internet. It does today, and it will in the future,” Gelsinger said.

Intel intends to ship the Willamette chip in the second half of this year, said Albert Yu, senior vice-president of Intel’s microprocessor group.

“This is the biggest [Intel architecture] product year ever, with small integration processors and with two great new micro architectures all coming towards the second half of this year.”

Intel began shipping a 1GHz processor in early March in limited quantity. The corporation has plans to make the processor more widely available later this year. Intel also plans to ship its 64-bit processor, Itanium, in the second half of this year.

While Grove defended the need for a faster 32-bit processor on the desktop, he said in a pre-conference press briefing that there will be no need for a 64-bit processor on the desktop.

But current operating systems and software applications will have to be reconfigured before they can reap the full benefits of the Itanium processor, said Intel’s Michael Pope, the director of enterprise programming at Intel.

The company also plans to release a new version of its Celeron processor, codenamed Timna, later this year, which is designed for PCs priced at less than US$600.

“We designed the chip so it will minimize the overall cost,” Yu said. Timna integrates graphics and memory into the central processing unit core and eliminates the need for a separate graphics card.

Intel also announced a 400MHz system bus, which runs three times faster than the 133MHz system bus currently used in Pentium III processors.