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Intel shelves plans for 4GHz Pentium 4

Intel has confirmed it will not release a 4GHz version of its flagship Pentium 4 product. Instead it will transfer its engineers to the company's new design priorities.

After years of promoting clock speed as the most important indicator of processor performance, Intel now believes that introducing multicore products and new silicon features, collectively known as the "Ts", are the best ways to improve processor performance.

The company has decided to break Intel president Paul Otellini's promise to release a 4GHz Pentium 4 product and will move engineers working on that product to other projects, said Intel spokesman Bill Kircos.

Earlier this year, Intel delayed the arrival of the 4GHz Pentium 4 until the first quarter of 2005. Otellini had promised to have that product out by the end of 2004.

Intel will still introduce a faster front-side bus in its Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chips, which will top out at 3.73GHz. Starting next year, the company will add an additional 1Mbyte of cache memory to its Pentium 4 chips based on the Prescott 90 nanometer core, and cap the clock speed of that product at 3.8GHz.

Intel has re-evaluated many product decisions following chief executive officer Craig Barrett's memo earlier this year which chastised the company for its string of product delays and manufacturing glitches.

The memo called for Intel to focus on products that can be delivered on time and without incident, and the decision to forgo the 4GHz chip seems linked to that emerging mindset.

It is easier to increase performance by adding cache memory to a processor, said Bill Kirby, director of platform marketing at Intel. Cache memory stores frequently accessed data close to the processor where it can be retrieved more quickly than data stored in the main memory.

Industry-wide concerns about the amount of power required to keep highly clocked processors running has caused most chip companies to move away from high clock speed designs.

Intel is now focusing on the "platformisation" of its chips, a concept that Otellini touched on during his keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum last month, Kircos said.

There were no technical or thermal limitations that prevented Intel from releasing a 4GHz product, Kirby said. But Intel would have to devote time and energy to tweaking circuit designs and testing those chips.

That always takes place when a chip maker validates a higher speed grade, but at a certain point it is no longer worth the effort, he said.

"Performance still matters, and performance on multiple vectors still matters," Kirby said. "The fundamental decision was whether to chase megahertz ... or to bring in other features like cache and multicore."

Those additional vectors include features such as hyperthreading, the software-based technology that Intel has used in its Pentium 4 chips for more than a year to fool a PC's operating system into believing the PC has two processors.

During its usual second-quarter chipset introduction in 2005, Intel will introduce the other platform technologies it has spoken about during the last several IDFs. These include: VT, or Vanderpool Technology, a virtualisation feature; LT, or LaGrande Technology, hardware-based security features; EM64T, Intel's name for its 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, and AMT, or Active Management Technology, a new feature aimed at making PCs easier to manage.

After that chipset launch, Intel will be ready to introduce its first dual-core desktop chips. Those chips will keep the Netburst architecture in at least the first generation of dual-core products, and probably into the second, Kirby said.

He declined to offer further details about Intel's dual-core desktop chips.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service


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