Pentium III and Xeon Chips Due Out

Intel Corp. has kept many of the details for its Katmai and Tanner chips under wraps, until now. This past January the chipmaker announced that its new offerings, better known as the Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon respectively, would be delivered by the end of the first quarter, with improvements to multimedia, Internet and mobile computing.

The Pentium III, with speeds of 450 MHz and 500 MHz, will be released by the end of the quarter. The goal for the second half of the year, according to Intel spokesman Seth Walker, is to reach 600 MHz.

The higher speeds come from shortening the distance that data has to travel. Earlier classes of Pentium chips used the 0.25 micron process. Walker says the Pentium III will use the same process at first, and then shrink the space between transistors to 0.18 microns. The decreased distance means data doesn’t have to travel as far and the chip generates less heat. These chips can be used in laptop computers, bringing them up to the same level of speed as desktops for the first time. Also, by creating less heat, the chips use less power and increases laptop battery life.

The new chip will contain 70 additional multimedia instructions and run at faster speeds than the Pentium II. The Pentium III will use the same 100-MHz system bus found on many Pentium IIs, but is expected to be upgraded to 133 MHz in the second half of the year. The Pentium III will also use the same 440BX chipset and Slot 1 packaging that are currently used with the Pentium II and fit into standard Pentium II motherboards.

This compatibility is what Intel wanted to make the transition easier for vendors. No update to the motherboard is initially needed, and software will be available on the Web for users to update their system BIOS. That’s all that will be needed after the upgrade.

By the end of the year, however, there will be several changes to the chip that will require complete system upgrades. The changes include the increased system bus speed, a faster version of the Advanced Graphics Port (AGP), and a new slot packaging scheme that will be used by Intel to cut costs.

The Xeon version of the chip is expected to follow a similar path as the Pentium III will take with its advancements. Those who upgrade to the Pentium III Xeon will not have to make any initial changes to the motherboard. The Pentium III Xeon will still use the 440GX chipset and come in the Slot 2 package, both off which are used by Pentium II Xeons.

"Just like the desktop, we're continuing to deliver the best performance we can," Walker says. "We have to support Internet and Web application capabilities. When you think about the Internet, you don't think about the processor. With the Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon, that's going to change." Walker explains data centers can really put a kick into performance by using a 500-MHz Pentium III Xeon with two, full MB of cache running at the same speed.

Intel has been very busy since the New Year began. The company released the new Celeron processors with speeds of 366 MHz and 400 MHz on the first business day of the year. The next day, Intel released new 450-MHz Pentium II Xeon processors with support for up to 2 MB of L2 cache.

Walker says its very important to realize chips are being made for different markets and that branching will continue in the Pentium line. Celerons are used mostly in the consumer space; the Pentiums are built for the business space; and Pentium Xeons are for servers and high-end workstations.