(The following column comes from EBN, a sister publication of Semiconductor Business News.)
Here's a great present, AMD -- from your good friend, Intel. The microprocessor king is forfeiting the mainstream desktop GHz clock race to its closest competitor for the next nine months -- until Intel fields its own comparable speed-grade desktop processors in mid-2001.
But you say Intel will be unveiling the 1.4- to 1.5-GHz Pentium 4, known as the Willamette, next month? Despite what the Santa Clara, Calif., marketing machine may try to convey, the Willamette appearing Nov. 20 isn't a mainstream desktop processor and comparable to AMD's Athlon Thunderbird and Mustang. It's aimed strictly at the very high-performance (more than $2,000) workstation and desktop market.
That's all that Intel ever claimed the Willamette Pentium 4 would be. Until now, that is. Without an above-1-GHz processor in its current line, Intel has been forced to make Willamette appear to be something it was never intended to be: an MPU bearing a clock speed competitive with AMD's mainstream chips.
Intel withdrew its 1.13-GHz Pentium III from the market in August because of technical glitches. At the time, the processor titan said the problem could be easily fixed, and the 1.13-GHz chip was supposed to be back in supply this fall. Now, Intel says it will be the second quarter of 2001 before that chip returns. The Northwood mainstream desktop Pentium 4 that competes in the AMD Athlon space won't make its appearance until the third quarter of 2001.
By then, the 1.13-GHz chip will be at the rear of the MPU speed race. By mid-2001, AMD should be perking along at 1.5 to 1.6 GHz, analysts noted.
Many believe that the delay of Intel's 1.13-GHz chip has more to do with marketing than a major technical overhaul. The initial Willamette Pentium 4 at 1.4 GHz has a deep-pipeline throughput dilemma, as previously reported. The difficulty of purging and refilling the deep pipeline with data for misprediction of prefetched data can slow the overall performance of the Willamette to the same level as the 1.13-GHz Pentium III, regardless of the higher clock rate.
Intel said its Net-Burst Pentium 4 micro-architecture will take care of the misprediction drag on performance. Even if it doesn't for the initial Willamette chips coming to market later this year, there won't be any 1.13-GHz Pentium IIIs around for a possible embarrassing comparison.
Whatever the reason for holding back any 1.13-GHz or higher-speed Pentium III processors, Intel has ceded the mainstream (less than $2,000) desktop clock race to AMD for almost three quarters. Unless Intel marketers can persuade people that the pricey Willamette Pentium 4 with expensive Direct Rambus memory is somehow midrange.