Speed's the periennial hot topic when it comes to PC processors

Speed's the periennial hot topic when it comes to PC processors

At Intel conference, vendors showcase systems that promise to max out at speeds 'well over 1 GHz'

By Mark A. Kellner

Special to GCN

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.'A 1.5-GHz microprocessor was the surprise star at Intel Corp.'s spring developer forum last month.

Intel chairman Andrew S. Grove demonstrated the ultrafast Willamette desktop computer processor, set for limited introduction during the second half of this year.

Albert Yu, an Intel vice president, showed off the first production 1-GHz Pentium III CPUs, which will arrive in limited quantities earlier. Yu also announced a 400-MHz system bus; current Intel buses top out at 133 MHz.

The 32-bit Willamette code name so far has no official designation, leaving unclear whether it will be part of the Pentium III line or in a new category of its own. Although the demonstration chip operated at 1.5 GHz, Intel said the chip would be offered at speeds 'well over 1 GHz.'

Frank Spindler, an Intel vice president for mobile systems, said the Willamette would not show up in mobile platforms before next year.

Computer makers Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Groupe Bull, Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. showed off workstations and servers sporting Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor, formerly code-named Merced. The Itanium will power high-end workstations and enterprise servers running Unix, Microsoft Windows NT, Windows 2000 or Linux operating systems.

Linux, too

HP's Linux Itanium platform followed close on the heels of a Linux OS for Itanium released by the Trillian Project, a collaborative effort by Intel, VA Linux Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., and other hardware makers.

The Itanium CPU, set for midyear production, will have 2M to 4M of Level 3 cache and an 800-MHz clock frequency.

IBM plans to release next month a beta version of its DB2 Universal Database software for Itanium, IBM vice president Frank Cummiskey said.

During a demonstration of Intel's Pentium III SpeedStep CPU designed for notebook computers, Spindler said that although the SpeedStep clock rate drops by 20 percent while the unit operates on battery power, application performance does not suffer.

He played a DVD video, using software decoding, on a SpeedStep notebook. When disconnected from the power transformer, the notebook shifted from 650 MHz to 500 MHz, as demonstrated by monitoring software, but the video maintained its smoothness and speed.

Spindler said users can manually set the CPU rate back up to the maximum via a control in the Windows system tray.

Pentium III SpeedStep notebooks will reach 750 MHz by the end of June and 850 MHz by year's end, Spindler said. He predicted a technology called Intel Mobile Voltage Positioning will save 5 percent to 10 percent of thermal power consumption, allowing notebook designers to specify faster CPUs.

He also demonstrated a very small heat exchanger that is designed expressly for portables.

Intel is talking with hardware developers, he said, about increasing the security of portable computing via a preboot authorization from devices such as a Universal Serial Bus iKey, biometric fingerprint reader or Fortezza PC Card.

Bandwidth bandwagon

On the USB front, Intel vice president Pat Gelsinger gave what he said was the first public demonstration of USB 2.0 devices.

When they reach the market later this year, Gelsinger said, USB 2.0 products will give up to 40 times the bandwidth of current USB products, yielding better performance by fast printers, high-resolution video cameras and external storage subsystems.

Intel, Compaq, HP, Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hills, N.J., Microsoft Corp., NEC Computer Systems Division and Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands are among the companies developing products for the USB 2.0 specification.

As for Intel's Bluetooth wireless radio technology for mobile computing, marketing manager Simon Ellis said Bluetooth-compatible hardware will begin to arrive in the second half of this year, 'with a ramp-up in 2001 and 2002.'

Spindler said future Bluetooth-enabled PCs would access the Internet via compatible wireless phones or wireless links on office campuses that hook into existing digital subscriber line, Integrated Services Digital Network or LAN connections.

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