Intel's 2.8GHz Pentium 4 chip is already for sale on industry price guide Pricewatch.com for $578 (£378), with a release date slated for 26 August. Three other Pentium 4 chips at 2.66GHz, 2.6GHz, and 2.5GHz are already available on UpgradeSource.com.
The release of the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 had been scheduled for October, but was moved to 25 August, according to a research note distributed by a Salomon Smith Barney Holdings analyst last month.
At the time, Intel declined to confirm that date, but said the chip would be announced in the third quarter. Salomon Smith Barney Holdings' note also said Intel would cut the prices of existing processors, including its top-of-the-line 2.53GHz Pentium 4.
The prices of AMD's Athlon XP processors have fallen sharply over the past week on various price guide Web sites, usually an indication that a chipmaker is preparing to release new products.
AMD also cut prices for its processors across the board in late July.
"Intel has been pretty vocal about pulling in the schedule for its faster Pentium 4s," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in California.
"The bigger they can make the gap between the installed base and what is available, the more pressure will be placed on customers to upgrade," he added. Many customers are still using the PCs they bought in 1999 when they anticipated year 2000 software problems, and are running 400MHz to 500MHz processors, he said.
AMD will release their Athlon XP 2400+ and 2600+ chips this week, according to various reports. The latest Athlon chips run at slower clock speeds than the newest Intel chips, but the performance gap between the chips is not as wide as the clock speed gap.
The real competition is at the midrange level, where most buyers are looking for the most performance they can afford. Most desktop systems today are priced between $800 (£524) and $1,200 (£785), with Intel's 2.2GHz and 2.0GHz Pentium 4 chips.
AMD's Athlon XP 2200+ and 2000+ can clearly match the performance of those chips at a lower cost, according to Pricewatch.com.
Intel maintains a healthy lead in the race for processor market share, according to research for the second quarter of 2002 from IDC. Intel's 82.8% share in terms of shipments dwarfs AMD's 15.6%.
Chips based on AMD's Hammer technology are expected at the end of this year, and the company promises its 64-bit desktop processors will allow it to take market share from Intel.
Intel's Prescott, a Pentium 4 chip manufactured on the company's new 90-nanometer technology, will be out in the second half of next year, and could overtake the Hammer technology.