SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In a significant product realignment, Intel Corp.'s upcoming Willamette microprocessor will now serve both the high-end and midrange PC-market segments, following the cancellation of a program that was to have cast the Pentium III chip in the midtier role, EBN has learned.
The Willamette, which Intel has described as its highest-performing desktop processor and a showcase for high-speed, 800-MHz Direct Rambus DRAM, is now being assigned the dual task of capturing top-end and mid-range market share from the Thunderbird and Spitfire processors -- the next-generation derivatives of the Athlon chip from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., said sources familiar with Intel's product plans.
The change came recently when the Santa Clara-based chip giant scrapped a project to develop a 200-MHz frontside bus for its Pentium III line, a family that offers a top FSB speed of 133 MHz. According to sources, the chip was to have gone head-to-head with the AMD Athlon, which is equipped with the faster, 200-MHz bus.
In addition to canceling the bus program, Intel has halted development of its closely guarded Camino-III core-logic chip set, which was to have linked the 200-MHz bus to a Direct RDRAM interface, sources said.
With the Pentium III no longer addressing the competitive midrange market, Intel is planning a major publicity campaign to extend the Willamette squarely into the $1,200 to $1,500 territory AMD is targeting with its upcoming Spitfire CPU.
A spokesman for Intel declined to discuss specifics of the Willamette processor or its associated chip sets. However, he said Intel's strategy has always been to introduce a processor in the high-performance market and migrate the chip to the mainstream. High said this would certainly hold true for Willamette, particularly as Intel next year begins moving to 0.13-micron wafer processing.
Bert McComas, an analyst at InQuest Research Inc. in Gilbert, Ariz., said Intel faces a serious challenge from AMD's four-prong Athlon attack -- Thunderbird, Spitfire (which will be branded as the Duron), Mustang, and Corvette -- and said Intel must fire back quickly with a mid-range version of the Willamette to counter the competitive threat.
At its most full-featured, the Willamette includes a 100-MHz FSB that uses a proprietary quad-pumped technique to generate bus speeds of 400 MHz. At the high end of the PC market, the chip offers a blazing 3.2-Gbyte/s memory-transfer speed when connected to four Direct RDRAM modules via an upcoming dual-channel chip set known as Tehama.
As part of its new strategy, sources said Intel is also fielding a single-channel chip set, known as Tulloch, to support the Willamette in midtier applications using only two Rambus RIMM modules. According to sources, Tulloch is designed to come out in May or June 2001, about six to nine months after the launch of the Tehama and at the same time as the Northwood-a Willamette-class processor designed using a 0.13-micron process geometry.
With the Pentium III having been bumped from the midrange spot, Intel is now readying the chip for the low-cost-PC market, according to sources. The company is preparing a successor to its highly popular 440BX chip set, known as the Intel 815, which will operate across a 133-MHz FSB and support AGP4X graphics capability to give the package a considerable performance boost.
Robert Merritt, an analyst at Semico Research Corp. in Redwood City, Calif., said the 815 will likely ship in volumes as high as its predecessor. Sources said the anticipated success of the 133-MHz 815 chip set was a probable factor in causing Intel to cancel its 200-MHz processor bus and Camino-III chip set programs.
--Additional reporting by Mark Hachman