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[ The PC Guide | Articles and Editorials | Industry Update: February 2001 ]

Processor Update

Future Directions

The ISSCC conference was held last week, with much discussion about the power dissipation of today's processors. Much of the focus on future development will be to increase performance without increasing the power usage (such as including chip level multithreading or using embedded DRAM as cache) or reducing power consumption during idle time (similar to what mobile processors do today). For an informative discussion of chip level multithreading, refer to the recent articles on the EV8 and SMT in the RWT Silicon Insider columns.

Intel Desktop Processors

Intel plans to finally make the PIII (Tualatin) 1.13GHz available in Q2, with a 1.26GHz following in Q3. However, this appears to be the highest speed PIII we will see, most likely to prevent it from pulling away Pentium 4 sales in the 1.3 and 1.4GHz range. By the end of this year, PIII will be relegated to the market that the Celeron currently targets as Intel attempts to answer both the Athlon and Duron from AMD.

P4 will be very aggressively ramped, with Intel expecting it to be 50% of their processor sales by Q4 of this year. The 1.7GHz will be introduced in Q2, followed by a 2GHz in Q3. Unspecified speeds greater than 2GHz will be introduced in Q4. To support this aggressive ramp, Intel is pressuring OEMs to place their DRDRAM orders now, and telling DRAM manufacturers to ramp their production in anticipation of the demand. It seems questionable whether this marketing push will cause a significant increase in sales, even with the price cuts Intel has shown for the next few months.

Intel Workstation/Server processors

Intel seems to have redefined the workstation market as fast single-processor systems, which they intend to use Pentium 4 and Foster to satisfy. In the dual-processor market (which they call front-end and back-end servers), the PIII Xeon will continue to play an important role through mid-2002, with Foster (the dual processor capable P4) debuting in Q3 of this year. 4 and 8-way+ systems will use PIII Xeons until Q4 of this year, when Foster will take over. Though Itanium shows on this roadmap as being available in Q1, it is apparent that this is more of a placeholder for McKinley, which simply replaces Itanium across the board in Q3 of this year. It is likely that Itanium will never really account for much more than a relatively few pilot systems.

AMD Processors

AMD distributors expect the 1.2GHz Athlon to be available in the channel (sale to dealers from authorized distributors) on February 15th. To this point, all 1.2GHz processors have been gray market (OEM backdoor sales). There is no official news on any other speeds (like the 1.3GHz) or 266MHz FSB CPU's. Despite recent Intel price cuts, the next price move should be late February to mid March. Since the last price move was early / mid December, early March would keep them on track for price adjustments every quarter. As of about a week ago, inventories for Athlon 900MHz & 1.1GHz was good, but the 1.0GHz was still in short supply. Speeds under 900MHz are no longer in production.

There are reports of 266MHz processors already selling in Asia and Europe, though PC2100 DDR SDRAM is still not widely available. AMD is not talking about this situation, though various scenarios have been suggested. Both memory and motherboard makers have pointed their fingers at AMD as the reason they are not already in volume production, but it is possible that AMD has been simply waiting for VIA, or for Micron to fix their motherboard issues. The most recent information indicates that these parts will be made available within the next two to three weeks, though that is only 'solid rumor' at this point.

VIA/Cyrix Processors

On January 14th, VIA Cyrix put on a 'Roadshow' in the City of Industry, which was attended by John Howland. Following is the summary of the show he provided.

"For any one that has tested a VIA Cyrix III CPU I would guess that you came away like I did, wondering what it's market is, because the performance just isn't there. But as pointed out by VIA the PC market isn't just driven by performance. Price is a big issue, especially with low end systems and that is a very large part of the world wide market.

VIA Cyrix stressed the following points with the current CPU, the VIA Cyrix III.

  • Price - a 600MHz part is currently over $20 less (that's about 35%) than a Celeron of the same speed.
  • Power draw and heat output - again less then a Celeron.
  • Compatibility - will work in any Socket 370 mainboard as long as the BIOS is up to date (and may even if it's not) and it does not require FC-PGA socket like the latest Celerons do.
  • FSB - available in 100MHz and soon 133MHz compared to the Celeron's 66MHz FSB (except the new 800 running at 100MHz).
  • Performance - they make no claims to be fast, just adequate for the market they have targeted.

What is coming down the road? Code name 'Samuel II' - will be .15 micron (current is .18), add a 64K L2 on die cache and some minor enhancements to the FPU. Speeds should start at 700MHz and their goal is 1GHz by the end of 2001. VIA will also start migrating the name away from Cyrix - next CPU should just have the VIA name one it. Better performance is promoted along with continuing Socket 370 compatibility and heat output - VIA claims some of the lower speed CPU's may be able to run with just a passive cooler which will cut down on both noise and system cost. The most interesting thing about the new 'Samuel II' is that VIA claims that it will be introduced at the end of Q1 (March) and available soon after that."

Next: Memory Update

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