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Intel back-tracks on PC-on-a-chip integrated CPUs

Integrated processor product due in 2000, apparently

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Intel has decided it's not quite as averse to the PC-on-a-chip concept as it used to be, and confessed it will offer such a product in 2000. According to Intel's senior VP of server architecture, Paul Ottelini, quoted on CNET, the Great Satan will use integrated CPUs to attempt to win back ground at the low end lost to the likes of Cyrix and, in particular, AMD. "In 1999 you'll see the integration of a lot of functions on the chipset, and in 2000 you will see integration between the processor and the chipset to take advantage of the transistor budget," said Ottelini. That "advantage" will come as Intel shifts to a 0.18 micron process, allowing more transistors -- ie. more functionality -- to be built into each processor. Intel has never been keen on integrating non-CPU functionality onto its chips, leaving it to others, most notably National Semiconductor's Cyrix subsidiary, whose MediaGX processor, which adds comms and 3D graphics to the CPU, is the only PC-on-a-chip product on the market. However, in the emerging ultra-low end of the business, which is pushing PCs at $599 or less, demand for not only cheap but integrated processors is growing. Nat Semi's strategy for MediaGX and its successor, M3, is largely predicated on high demand for such chips, not only from low-end PC vendors but from information appliance suppliers too. The higher the level of integration, the fewer costly extras the vendors has to build into their PC, and the easier it becomes to compete at such low prices. Net Semi has made some very rosy predictions for that sector of the market, and Otellini's comments suggest Intel thinks it may have a point. Equally, it's keen to fight back against low-cost mainstream processors, such as AMD's K6 family, IDT/Centaur's WinChip and the soon-to-ship mp6 chip from Rise, some of which have beaten it on price/performance. Integrated CPUs, either as next-generation Celerons or as a new line underneath them, could be powerful weapons for winning that business back. Analysts and commentators speaking at last month's Microprocessor Forum suggested Intel was moving away from the low-end, but that's clearly no longer the case. "We are not willing to live with the share [of the market] we have," said Otellini. "We will win the business back company by company." ®

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