Fastest ever rollout? Intel bets jobs, ranch on Pentium 4

Mouthware? Or are the fabs really starting to sing?

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Intel is predicting one of the steepest ramps in its history for the Pentium 4, the new company flagchip due to be unleashed on November 20th. This may simply be another aspect of the company's marketing plan to focus attention on the new high price, low availability one and away from the travails of the Pentium III, but it might mean that Intel is getting its fabbing problems licked.

If not, someone will likely swing for it. Speaking during an analysts call after the announcement of Intel's Q3s last night executive VP Paul Otellini said that P4s in the hundreds of thousands would be produced this quarter, and that the ramp for the processor will be steeper than that for the Pentium II.

This to an extent clarifies the cunfusing signals about PIII versus P4 that came out of the Microprocessor Forum. The Pentium II is, from Intel's point of view, one of the company's greatest hits. Intel got volumes up fast, got them into the market fast, burned off the opposition, then spent several years being exceedingly prosperous while Chimpzilla plotted revenge.

So Intel's intent with the P4 would appear to be to repeat this, saving its bacon via a process of goalpost moving combined with sheer manufacturing might. That means getting the chip size down, getting the yields up, getting new fabs online (Intel's margin expectations for Q4 are down slightly on Q3 because of start-up cost of new 0.18 micron fabs), and nothing going wrong.

It's possibly a tall order, but in the midst of the GHz and price war with AMD it's easy to overlook one crucial factor that remains in Intel's favour. No matter how fast AMD chips are, no matter how flat-out AMD's fabs go, for quite some time to come Intel will be able to make substantially more chips than AMD, because it's got a lot more plant.

So even if AMD can sell every chip it can make (which it says it can), there'll be plenty sales left for Intel, meaning that Chipzilla has a lot of time in which to bounce back. But that doesn't mean heads won't roll if the P4 doesn't start looking like a convincing saviour, fast. ®

Related Stories:
Intel forecasts Q4 records
Intel to hype P4 over 1.13GHz PIII, and barely ship either?


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