Intel moves to pass competitor, retake lead in computing speed

Willamette nearly twice as fast as Pentium III

Semiconductor industry

February 16, 2000|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Intel Corp. showed off a new microprocessor, code-named Willamette and running at 1.5 gigahertz, as the world's biggest semiconductor maker continues its race against rivals to have the fastest computer chip.

At that speed, 1.5 billion electrical pulses are going through the chip every second to perform computer tasks. Intel's fastest production model chip is a Pentium III running at 800 megahertz, a little more than half as fast.

Intel is in a heated race with rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. to have the fastest chip on the market. AMD leads now with an 850 MHz Athlon chip. Faster chips usually command higher prices and give chip makers an edge in marketing to computer makers and consumers.

Willamette will be available in large quantities for PC makers in the second half of this year. Production models will be guaranteed to run at more than 1 gigahertz, Intel said.

"We will be entering limited production shortly," said Albert Yu, general manager of Intel's microprocessor products group. "We will be shipping hundreds of thousands of Willamettes by the end of this year."

Yu spoke at the twice-yearly Intel Developers Forum in Palm Springs, Calif. The conference is aimed at getting software engineers to develop products for Intel chips.

Intel shares gained $2.125 to $112 yesterday. The stock has risen 72 percent in the past year. Advanced Micro shares gained 62.5 cents to $43.875, and have more than doubled in the same period.

Willamette represents a new design for Intel. The company wouldn't say if the chip will be called a Pentium when it's ready to be sold, although Intel Vice President Pat Gelsinger said the company's Pentium brand is too valuable to ignore. "It would be fair to assume that we'll find a way to leverage that name," he said.

Intel showed off a Willamette-powered PC. The screen illustrated video-game-like graphics with shimmering water in pools and colorful textures on floors and walls. Game players are often the earliest buyers of new, more powerful chips.

Megahertz and gigahertz speeds in a processor are similar to revolutions per minute in a car engine. Like an engine, chips heat up when they run faster.

Some critics have said that microprocessors are already powerful enough for most uses, especially in desktop computers used in the home. Intel Chairman Andy Grove countered that new uses will arise to take advantage of the higher chip speeds.

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