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P4 volumes to ramp up Q3 2001 – Intel

All according to plan

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Intel doesn't expect Pentium 4 take off until the second half of the year, the company said yesterday.

The reason? Chipzilla will get its Brookdale chipset finished off in Q3. Brookdale supports SDRAM rather than Rambus' pricey RDRAM - it's roughly four times the price of SDRAM. So Brookdale systems won't cost as much as machines based on the current P4-oriented RDRAM-based 850 chipset, allowing OEMs to push the chip down into the lower reaches of the PC market.

Intel's senior VP and the general manager of its Intel Architecture Group, Paul Otellini admitted all this yesterday in a conference with financial analysts. His comments confirm the confidential roadmap we saw last year (see Intel to push Rambus hard in 2001). That roadmap has the SDRAM-based Brookdale shipping Q3 2001, with a DDR SDRAM version following early 2002.

Otellini said the DDR Brookdale would ship "as fast as we can get it out".

Which nicely (for Rambus) leaves RDRAM as the only high-performance memory technology that Intel supports in a P4-oriented chipset for a whole year - a very long time in the chip biz. Intel has "no plans" to support DDR with the PIII platform at all.

Otellini told analysts: "Brookdale will help build overall volumes as Pentium 4 ramps up." So P4 volumes will ramp up during the first half of the year, driven by P4 price cuts and Intel's plan to promote Rambus hard.

The pricing strategy was hinted at by Otellini yesterday. "Obviously we have to sharpen our pencils on the Pentium 4 price range to get the volumes we want to drive," he said. Which nicely confirms what we'd heard about major P4 price cuts at the end of this month.

That should encourage the chip's uptake - and make it easier for OEMs to bundle expensive RDRAM DIMMs. Indeed, "Intel will continue to proactively drive [RDRAM] to help vendors come down the learning and price curves more quickly. Be prepared to transition to lower price points if pricing continues to come down," according to the roadmap.

The plan's clear. First, focus P4 on Rambus during the first half of the year to build the association between the two in OEMs' minds, especially if there are some solid CPU price cuts early on.

Next, come Q3, throw SDRAM into the mix to give P4 a real kick. As volumes rise, P4 prices will come down further and, because Intel has spent the first half of the year explicitly linking P4 with RDRAM, hopefully encourage further adoption of Rambus' memory. Intel may even be hoping that the gap between RDRAM and single-rate SDRAM will close considerably between now and Q3.

Then come Q1 2002, it can release DDR Brookdale for the die-hards who refuse to toe the RDRAM line. ®

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