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Intel decides speed matters less these days, kills 4GHz Pentium

Giant change of heart

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For years, Intel has been insisting that consumers need ever faster processors to handle their desktop and notebook workloads. That pitch, however, will need some refining now that the chipmaker has revealed that a 4.0GHz Pentium 4 once due out at the end of this year (and then planned for 2005) won't arrive at all.

Intel now plans to stick with a 3.8GHz Pentium 4 for the foreseeable future. It will pump up the cache on this chip from 1MB to 2MBs over time in a bid to boost performance. In addition, Intel will tout its Hyperthreading technology and increase research and development efforts around dual-core chips. Intel insists that this focus on other types of technology and not just GHz alone has been underway at the company for a long time.

"It wasn't a light switch that went on or off today," said Intel spokesman Bill Kircos. "There has been a pattern of us shifting toward a platform focus over the past two to three years."

Kircos pointed to Intel's Centrino mobile processor package that includes a bundle of technology as one example of the platform approach. Still, he admits that not being the first to break a given GHz barrier is a major shift for the company.

"Is the 4.0GHz change an exclamation point? Yes," he said.

Industry watchers have predicted such a shift in marketing and focus has been on the way for some time. Single core beasts are becoming too hot and, well, pointless for the average consumer.

While Intel has long done research into different designs, the company has been married to its "more GHz is king" single core attack. Every couple of months, an Intel executive would sit in front of the press and explain that a multimedia explosion on the PC was demanding more powerful chips. Intel's ever faster products also helped the company edge out rival AMD in many instances. The need to win the GHz race forced Intel to fall behind competitors - at least from a marketing standpoint - in a number of areas.

The company has been the last to embrace just about every recent major trend in the processor market. It scoffed at AMD's x86-64-bit approach only to admit this year that it will now use the same technology. It laughed off dual-core technology that arrived from IBM years ago, only to now say that dual-core is indeed the future. Intel also mocked companies such as Sun Microsystems and Transmeta for touting low-power parts in the enterprise market, but our sources say this is exactly the direction Intel is taking with its "Whitefield" processor.

Intel's size and strength force it to be more conservative than rivals when announcing and delivering new gear, so the reticence to move away from championing GHz is understandable. It, however, should be noted that Intel is eating serious crow with the 4.0GHz cancellation.

Customers should still expect to see 4.0GHz and higher chips one day. Intel will likely cross that mark in 2006.

At the present time, however, the company decided that moving people onto dual-core and other projects was a better use of resources that trying to produce a plain, old faster chip. ®

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