PC vendors ready 2.2GHz Pentium 4 systems

PC makers are prepping computer systems loaded with Intel Corp.’s new 2.2GHz Pentium 4 processor, the speedy new chip that is expected to launch on Monday.

Manufacturers such as IBM Corp., Gateway Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Micron PC Inc. are each planning to introduce PCs powered by the 2.2GHz Pentium 4 chip, according to sources familiar with the separate vendors’ plans.

IBM, for example, will launch a 2.2GHz PC before the end of January, a company spokesperson said.

System pricing for PCs sporting the 2.2GHz Pentium 4 chip is expected to be around the US$2,000 range, depending on individual configuration, according to industry sources.

A PC market already at the threshold of required performance will mean that early adopters of systems powered by the 2.2GHz Pentium 4 will be mainly PC gamers and others riding the performance curve, said Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

“Existing PC performance is sufficient to run the software that exists now over the communication links that exist now. It doesn’t buy you a lot to grab a faster processor,” Kay said.

PC makers staggering their individual 2.2GHz-based product releases over the course of the next 60 days, along with competition from dedicated, high-performance game systems like the Microsoft’s Xbox, will also slow the uptake of the new Pentium 4s, Kay said.

The launch of the first Pentium 4 desktop processors built to 0.13-micron architecture adds greater efficiency to Intel’s production methods, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans. All previous Pentium 4 and Pentium III chips have been built to 0.13-micron specifications.

In line with Moore’s Law, the smaller chip fabrication process paves the way for generations of faster Pentium 4 chips. Intel is already predicting a 3GHz Pentium 4 by year’s end. Intel launched a 2GHz 0.18-micron Pentium 4 last August.

Moving to a 0.13-micron chip core also means Intel can get nearly twice the number of chips on a 200-millimeter processor die than it could with 0.18-micron core. A percentage of the cost savings here will be passed on to PC makers, according to Intel.

The 2.2GHz chip, Intel’s fastest to date, made its debut appearance in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district last week.

The new Pentium 4 processor will be Intel’s first based on the company’s Northwood core, which features 512KB of Level 2 cache compared to current 0.18-micron Pentium 4 processors that offer only 256KB of cache. The 0.13-micron manufacturing process allows Intel to pack components more tightly on a chip, which can boost speed and lower cost, as well as reduce heat and power consumption, according to Intel.

“Larger cache does provide an important performance benefit,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif. “It’s more than the increase you would get going from 2GHz to 2.2GHz [with the smaller cache].”

Pentium 4 chips using the Northwood core will also run at 1.5 volts, compared to 1.75 volts for current Pentium 4 processors. Lowering the voltage lets the chips run cooler, which will become more important as Intel further increases the frequency speed of future Pentium 4 chips, Intel representatives said.

By the first half of 2002, Intel will improve the efficiency of its Pentium 4 chip making process yet again with a transition to a 300-millimeter wafer die. The 300-millimeter die will yield almost three times the number of Pentium 4 chips as the current 200-millimeter die, according to Intel.