The once well-choreographed Intel production debuts are looking pretty ragged these days.
The latest case in point: The much-anticipated 600-MHz Pentium III unveiled today doesn't have a chipset that can tap its full potential. Almost everyone agrees the 600-MHz processor needs at least a 133-MHz frontside bus to utilize its power. But the latest, fastest Pentium will be bogged down by a 100-MHz bus, which is all that Intel has available now.
That's because the next-generation Camino 820 chipset with a 133-MHz FSB was delayed and won't be coming out until the end of the third quarter. A new 810e chipset will be ready about the same time with a 133-MHz FSB, but won't support AGP-4X, which the blitzing 600-MHz Pentium cries for. Separately, the projected Intel 754 graphics chipset, which would have supported AGP-4X, was terminated, leaving only the 752 version supporting only AGP-2X.
Neither chipset at introduction will support the emerging higher-speed PC133 SDRAM. If OEMs want SDRAM for servers, sub-$1,000 PCs, portables, and possibly midrange desktops, Intel chipsets for the rest of the year will be able to support only slower PC100 chips.
Intel is expected to reluctantly join the PC133 camp by modifying a chipset to support the new SDRAM-but that won't be ready for delivery until the first of next year.
The MPU giant will introduce the long-touted Direct Rambus DRAM chips in September, along with the Camino 820. But it isn't clear which of three speed versions-600-, 700-, and 800-MHz-will be available in mass production quantities, and at what price. Intel's reversal of its long-standing aversion to PC133 suggests that the Direct RDRAM launch will be less than the usual Intel 14-gun-salute sendoff.
Even the 600-MHz Pentium III chip today is a fallback. Originally, it was slated to be fabricated on Intel's new Coppermine 0.18-micron wafer process. But unexpected problems delayed the first 0.18-micron chips for several more months, so the initial 600-MHz Pentium was produced on the workhorse 0.25-micron fab lines.
For a major product introduction non-event, archrival Advanced Micro Devices takes the prize with its offhand unveiling of the K7 Athlon seventh-generation microprocessor. But AMD has suffered such faltering production of newly introduced chips, it probably did well to let the Athlon ramp-up speak for itself.
At Intel, it looks like the old thoroughly engineered game play for new products is being replaced by last-minute play-action calls at the line of scrimmage. But those tactics have won more than one gridiron contest. At the end of the day, it isn't how much hoopla greeted the players on the field, but how many points they put on the board.