Intel holds speed on new Pentium 4 chips

Intel is expected Monday to release the first update to its Pentium 4 family since the company decided that it had reached the practical limit of the chip's clock speed.

The four new Pentium 4 processors come with an extra 1M byte of Level 2 cache memory, bringing the total amount of Level 2 cache memory on the chip to 2M bytes. Cache memory is used to store frequently accessed data close to the processor, where it can be processed more quickly that data that resides in a PC's main memory.

For years, Intel improved the performance of its Pentium 4 chip by increasing its clock speed, but power leakage problems associated with the jump to its 90-nanometer process technology are preventing the company from making the chip run any faster. Last year Intel announced that the Pentium 4 processor would top out at 3.8 GHz. Increasing the amount of cache memory on a chip does not require as much power as increasing the speed at which the chip processes data.

The new chips also come with support for 64-bit operating systems and applications. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which released 64-bit desktop chips in 2003, are gearing up for the production version of Microsoft's 64-bit Windows XP operating systems, expected in the first half of this year after many delays. Linux operating systems are already available with support for the extensions technology.

The new Pentium 4 processors will give Intel and its PC customers some breathing room before the launch of its first dual-core desktop processors, expected by the end of June. The Smithfield dual-core chips are expected to arrive with new chipset technologies that will support new technologies such as virtualization.

The four new Pentium 4 processors are the Pentium 4 660 processor at 3.6 GHz, the 650 processor at 3.4 GHz, the 640 processor at 3.2 GHz and the 630 processor at 3 GHz. Intel also released a 3.73-GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor with 2M bytes of Level 2 cache and a 1066-MHz front-side bus. That chip is usually reserved for gamers or PC enthusiasts willing to spend extra money for Intel's highest-performing chip.

In quantities of 1,000 units, the 660 costs $605, the 650 costs $401, the 640 costs $273 and the 630 costs $224. The 3.73-GHz Extreme Edition chip costs $999.

HP and Gateway plan to support the new desktop processors, according to company representatives. PCs with the 660 and 650 chips will be available on HP's Web site as of Monday, and the 640 and 630 processors will be available as configuration options as of March 9. Gateway plans to introduce new desktops with the chip in the near future.

Dell's product plans are usually tightly coordinated with Intel's launch schedules, but a Dell spokesman did not respond to requests for confirmation that Dell PCs will be available with the new chips.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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