Intel Corp. Friday abruptly terminated its Timna processor program, at least for now ending the company's chances of bringing a highly integrated, low-cost CPU to market.
A spokesman said the Santa Clara, Calif., company scrapped the processor after efforts to adapt the chip to an SDRAM interface failed. The Timna originally was designed to interface to Direct Rambus DRAM, but Intel switched its memory support in June in a move that, at the time, was expected to delay the device until the first quarter of 2001.
Timna's demise means it will be some time before Intel is able to introduce a processor with an integrated north-bridge controller, a cost savings technique that has been adopted by the Crusoe chip from Transmeta Corp., by National Semiconductor Corp.'s Geode, and which will be incorporated in an upcoming processor being developed by Via Technologies Inc.
The Intel spokesman confirmed that no alternative design plans are in place to ready an equivalently equipped device. Instead, the company will compete in the bottom tier of the PC market with successive iterations of its Celeron processor. The Timna was aimed at the sub-$600 PC segment, which will be served by a combination of the Celeron, Intel 810 integrated-graphics chipset, and low-cost motherboards.
"Our customers told us they didn't need Timna to sell in this price range," the spokesman said.
Despite the cancellation, the Timna was not necessarily destined to compete head-to-head with the new wave of integrated processors in the PC market. While Via's Matthew chip is aimed at low-end desktop systems, Transmeta and National are vying more for mobile wireless and Internet-appliance applications, which Timna ultimately could also have served.
Greg Fawson, an analyst at InQuest Research Inc., Gilbert, Ariz., said Via's Matthew now has the low-end desktop segment almost to itself. "These companies have to be relieved also, because the threat of Timna trying to move into their space no longer exists," Fawson said.
Timna's termination also drove a stake through the heart of Intel's troubled Memory Translator Hub. Having already failed to convert the Intel 820 chipset's interface from Direct RDRAM to less costly SDRAM, the MTH was similarly unable to modify the Timna interface. The Intel spokesman said more work was needed to fix the MTH, which would have further postponed Timna's launch.
Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at InSight 64, Saratoga, Calif., said the chip's death came as no surprise.
"The MTH defects caused Intel to delay Timna and miss the back-to-school market this year," he said. "The years-old technology wasn't getting any better, it was just getting older."
Brookwood said killing Timna will spare Intel from having to pay Rambus royalties on the devices. Because Timna had a Direct Rambus interface-even though it modified the processor to run with SDRAM-the company was obligated to pay royalties on each Timna it sold.