Intel's Pentium II Lacking Key Accessories
Delay of Chip Set, Other Devices Could Attract Competitors, Reports CMP's Electronic Buyers' News
When Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) formally introduces its Pentium II chip this week -- a processor that is 20 percent to 50 percent faster than its Pentium line -- the company will not include some critical components that go around the CPU, sources familiar with the company's plans told CMP's Electronic Buyers' News. The delayed introduction of these components could invite stiff competition from chip-set and graphics vendors.
Moreover, some in the industry are questioning whether persistent power supply problems will hamper Intel's ability to develop dual-processor Pentium II systems to compete with high-end workstations and servers from Sun Microsystems Inc. and Silicon Graphics Inc.
Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., has delayed the introduction of its 440LX chip set until the third quarter, and rumors have surfaced that the company will also push out the introduction of its Auburn 3-D chip to late 1997 or early 1998, the sources said.
Chip sets are critical to the functioning of a microprocessor because they contain essential electronic components, including the system, memory and bus controller.
In the meantime, chip-set vendors and graphics-chip makers are vowing to introduce competitive products within the next year for the Pentium II platform.
The delayed LX chip set includes Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology -- an Intel motherboard connection that provides display adapters with a high-speed interface into main memory -- and will also be designed to eke out more performance from high-speed, synchronous DRAMs (SDRAMs). Until it is introduced, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are expected to design Pentium II systems with the older 440FX chip set, currently used in its Pentium microprocessor.
Other sources said that Intel's Auburn chip will also be delayed until the end of the year, with volume shipments beginning in the first half of 1998. Auburn is being developed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin Corp. and Chips and Technologies Inc.
The chip-set delay was likely prompted by Microsoft Corp.'s (NASDAQ: MSFT) postponement of its Memphis operating system, which will include driver support for AGP, Mike Feibus, Principal at Mercury Research, Scottsdale, Ariz. told Electronic Buyers' News.
"Intel's execution on the LX chip set is a good quarter behind where they thought they would be six to nine months ago," he said. "Ironically, there will be plenty of graphics controllers to plug into AGP."
One of those graphics controllers will be from S3 Inc. (NASDAQ: SIII), which currently holds about 50% of the market for 3-D chips. By late 1997 or early 1998, S3 plans to introduce a 3-D processor with a setup engine, which Intel has said is needed for Pentium II-based systems with AGP. S3 is also working to develop 3-D applications for business-PC users.
"Our assumption is that as experts in the graphics market, we'll be able to stay ahead of Intel," said Scott Tandy, Senior Manager of New Business Development for S3, Santa Clara.
Tandy said that customers are especially concerned about Intel's "homogenization of the PC," which should give S3 an opportunity to allow customers to differentiate their products.
While the competitive pressures on Intel mount, the company has yet to introduce a reference design that will allow PC makers to build dual-processor Pentium II systems. One source that buys from Intel told Electronic Buyers' News that the Pentium II generates fifteen amps, double the fastest MMX processors.
"Fifteen amps is a lot of power to suck across a motherboard," a source said. "There are plenty of Pentium IIs, but there are few, if any, duals ready."
Intel is now distributing a program called K-Power that tests a motherboard's thermal characteristics when running two Pentium IIs.
"I know as you get to multiprocessor, the Pentium Pro is a better solution than Pentium II," the Intel spokesman said. "At the end of the year, you should see multiple configurations that use Pentium II."
The complete Electronic Buyers' News report can be found on the publication's Web site, EBN Online, at http://techweb.cmp.com/ebn/942/daily/050597news1.html.
Since its inception in 1971, CMP Media's Electronic Buyers' News (http://www.ebnonline.com/) has been an essential source of pricing trends, new products, supplier reports and industry developments for over 65,500 OEM purchasing and corporate managers.
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SOURCE: CMP Media Inc.