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Intel and AMD unveil high speed chips

Intel is hoping to steal a march on rival chip-maker AMD by using smaller circuits to increase the clock speeds of its Pentium 4 processors.

Both companies launched new chips on the eve of the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas while Hewlett-Packard and Compaq used the show to present new systems based on the faster chips.

Intel launched a 2.2GHz Pentium 4 that uses its new Northwood chip core which is manufactured using a 0.13-micron process, compared to previous versions of the chip which used the 0.18-micron process. The numbers refer to dimensions of circuits etched onto the surface of the chips.

Along with a smaller die size, Intel has also doubled the amount of Level 2 cache on its new Pentium 4 processor to 512Kbytes, up from 256Kbytes on previous versions.

The new Intel chip runs at 1.5 volts, compared to 1.7 volts for previous versions, Intel said. Dropping the voltage enables chips to consume less power and produce less heat, which should allow the company to increase the clock speed further with future releases. The new processor will appear in systems from vendors including HP, Dell and eMachines.

Meanwhile AMD launched its latest high-end processor, the Athlon XP 2000+, which has a clock speed of 1.67GHz and comes with 256Kbytes of L2 cache. Initially, systems will be available only from Compaq and Systemax, although others, including HP, are expected to follow.

The Athlon XP 2000+ uses a 0.18-micron manufacturing process.

Intel officially launched its first 845 chipset supporting double data rate (DDR) memory, adding to its support of synchronous dynamic RAM (SDRAM) and Rambus DRAM (RDRAM). Motherboard vendors showed the chipset at the Comdex trade show in November, but Intel held off on a formal launch until 7 January.

DDR SDRAM support for the Pentium 4 has been a source of friction between Intel and Taiwan-based Via Technologies. In September, Intel filed lawsuits in the US and elsewhere alleging that Via's P4X266 chip set, which allows the Pentium 4 to work with DDR SDRAM, violates Intel technology patents. Via has denied the allegations.

Intel denied speculation that a contract with RDRAM developer Rambus had prevented it from offering a DDR chipset sooner. "You want to make sure there is a wide variety of manufacturers offering DDR memory chips," said Louis Burns, vice-president and general manager of Intel's desktop platforms group, during a briefing with reporters last week. "We're very convinced of it now," he said.

The Athlon XP 2000+ is priced at $339 (£236), while Intel's 2.2GHz Pentium 4 sells for $562. Intel also launched a 0.13-micron version of its 2GHz chip with 512Kbytes of cache, priced at $364. All prices are based on 1,000-unit quantities, a standard volume of chip sales.

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