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Intel OEMs face tough ride ahead

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Analysis Time was when Chipzilla's OEMs could relax in the knowledge that CPU speeds would go up and prices would come down. Then the Celeron appeared a year ago and muddied the waters. Sure, the first Covingtom Celerons were real dogs, lacking any L2 cache and being all-too-obviously a knee-jerk reaction to pressure from AMD in the sub $1,000 system marketplace, but the real Celerons based on the Mendocino core have turned out to be probably the best chip Intel has ever produced in terms of bang per buck. From an inauspicious start just 12 months ago, Celeron is now reckoned to be the second most prevalent chip in the World, with only the Pentium II having more ubiquity. With the 466MHz Celeron due RSN, what happens next for Intel's baby? Well, sticking at 66MHz frontside bus seems to be the order of the day for the rest of this year although sources close to Intel expect a 500MHz Celeron to appear in the Autumn using a clock multiplier of 7.5. Users wanting a Katmai variant of Celeron will have to wait until the next century when the first SSI-enabled parts will appear. The thinking behind this would appear to be to protect the Pentium III line from the kind of pressure Celeron put on the old Pentium II range where the entry-level chips performed embarassingly well and stole sales from the high margin mainstream CPUs. Remember that a Celeron doesn't cost a hell of a lot less to put together than a Pentium II or III, but typically costs less than half the price – a 400MHz Pentium II today costs $234, while a Celeron at the same speed is just $103. Yes, the Celeron has only a quarter the L2 cache of the Pentium II and III, but it runs at the full core speed of the processor rather than a measly 50 per cent, so it actually performs about the same. This means that only the FSB speed and Katmai instructions (and a whacking price hike) differentiate between the economy and mainstream products. The unfortunate delays to the Camino 820 chipset have led to some hasty rewriting of Intel's high-end roadmap. A 533MHz PIII was due to ship around June, using the 820 chipset and 133MHz FSB, but serious problems with Camino have forced the chip giant to rush out a stopgap 550MHz Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon to hold the fort until Camino finally appears. This will result in the strange spectacle of Intel launching a 133MHz FSB 533MHz Pentium III (probably with 512K of off-die L2) sometime in the Autumn, competing with the faster-clocked (but slower-bussed) 550MHz PIII. Expect the 550MHz part to cost about $100 more than the 533MHz, while at the same time, a new top banana 600MHz PIII (133MHz FSB and 256K on-die L2) will leap out from behind the bushes and demand $750 from die-hard speed freaks. As one Intel watcher, who asked not to be named, said: "Intel should thank its lucky stars that there's no one out there who seems capable of shipping a competing high-end CPU in any meaningful volume." You think you're confused – try being an Intel OEM. ®

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