Trying to push its new Pentium 4 processor more quickly into the mainstream PC market, Intel Corp. plans to introduce a less-expensive 1.3-GHz chip in January.
Analysts and some memory suppliers this week said the new low-end Willamette Pentium 4 will be introduced at the end of the month as an interim version until Intel can bring out its mainstream Northwood Pentium 4 at midyear.
Intel's move is aimed at countering the threat from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Athlon processor, which is gaining market share, said Bert McComas, Pentium watcher and an analyst at InQuest Research Inc., Gilbert, Ariz. McComas said the initial unit price of the 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 will be $410, more than twice the price of the 1.2-GHz mainstream Athlon processor.
Howard High, corporate communication manager for Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., declined to comment on reports of a 1.3-GHz Pentium 4, citing the company's policy of not discussing any unannounced product. He did reiterate Intel's intentions to push the Pentium 4 into mainstream PCs as rapidly as possible.
The interim 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 would allow Intel to sell processors that missed the bin-out testing for higher-speed processors, Mc-Comas said. "The Pentium 4's high 217-sq.-mm die size means Intel doesn't want to scrap a lot of silicon just because it fell short of the 1.4-GHz bin-out test," he said.
The 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 faces the higher memory cost of Direct Rambus DRAM, which is the only memory supported by Willamette. Mainstream Athlon and Pentium III PCs have been eagerly taking advantage of lower SDRAM prices.
The 1.3-GHz Pentium 4 would benefit from Intel's current $60 rebate to OEMs for each actual shipment of the new processor with Direct Rambus DRAM.
It is also expected to be available from Intel as a bundled package with Direct RDRAMs to motherboard makers and resellers.
Intel's High would only say that the Pentium 4 incentive programs were available for all Pentium 4 speed grades.
McComas warned that Intel's effort to market a lower-speed-grade Pentium 4 could backfire in the event the next-generation processor is out-performed by either AMD's Athlon or Intel's own 1-GHz Pentium III, both of which carry far lower prices. A performance issue might arise from the fact that the Pentium 4's deep 20-stage pipeline causes data-rate delays, due to prefetch mispredictions and resulting pipeline purges and refilling, McComas said.
Intel has acknowledged the Pentium 4 misprediction delays, but said higher processor speeds would more than offset such lags. The 1.3-GHz version lowers the clock rate, only accentuating the pipeline delay, according to McComas.
The price of the 1.3-GHz Will-amette processor is expected to drop to about $265 at midyear when it will be replaced by the Northwood mainstream-PC Pentium 4 chip, according to McComas.
At that point, the Willamette Pentium 4 will only be marketed in speed grades above 1.5 GHz for the workstation and high-performance desktop market, which is where it was originally intended.
Northwood, with a single memory channel, smaller die size due to 0.13-micron processing, and cheaper SDRAM, has been Intel's intended mainstream Pentium 4 version. However, the company's planned midyear launch may be too late to compete against the growing threat from AMD's mainstream Athlon, according to analysts.