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Intel delays Dothan chip launch

Notebook buyers will have to wait until the second quarter for Dothan, Intel's 90-nanometer version of its Pentium M chip.

Intel needed to modify some circuits on the chip so that Dothan could be manufactured at high volumes. Dothan had been expected to ship this quarter.

The modifications to some of Dothan's circuits are not related to any thermal problems resulting from the jump to the 90-nanometer process technology, said intel spokesman George Alfs.

The chip industry is preparing to move its chip making equipment from the 0.13-micron process technology generation to the 90-nanometer process. As chips reach these tiny sizes, it becomes more and more likely that the electrons moving through the chips will be able to escape the ultrathin circuit walls and leak out as heat.

Analysts suspected that thermal issues resulted in the delay of Prescott, the 90-nanometer version of the Pentium 4. Heat dissipation is always a concern of chip designers, but the issue is magnified for notebook processors that need to deliver high performance while consuming little power in a small area.

Peter Glaskowsky, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report in San Jose, said Intel might have had problems delivering the yields it needed to produce chips at higher clock speeds. Processors are all cut from the same wafer, and designed to run at a certain clock speed. Not every processor is capable of running at the target clock speed because of minor imperfections, but those that fail to meet the target will usually work reliably at a lower clock speed.

If Intel was unable to get enough chips that worked reliably at its target clock speed, it might have needed to redesign some of the circuitry to reach those speeds, Glaskowsky said.

When it does arrive, Dothan will come with 2Mbytes of cache, twice the amount of existing Pentium M processors. A processor with more cache can store greater quantities of frequently used instructions close to the CPU, improving performance by not having to access those instructions from memory every time they need to be executed.

The delay is not expected to have any impact on Intel's first-quarter revenue.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service


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