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Intel wins race to 90 nanometers with Prescott

Smaller chips, bigger performance

Intel released the first major revision to the Pentium 4 processor in two years with the introduction of four new processors based on its 90 nanometre Prescott core.

The chips are also Intel's first 90 nanometre products to hit the market. One of the benefits of shrinking chip manufacturing technologies is the ability to put more transistors on a smaller chip, and Intel was able to more than double the amount of transistors from the current Northwood Pentium 4 core, said Tim Thraves, desktop marketing manager for Intel.

"We think this is an industry milestone," said Bill Siu, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop platforms group.

The new processors arrived at 3.4GHz, 3.2GHz, 3GHz, and 2.8GHz, speeds that overlap current Pentium 4 processors. If two chips with different cores are available at the same clock speed, the Prescott chip will be known as the 3.4EGHz Pentium 4, while a Northwood chip with an 800MHz system bus gets the 3.4CGHz brand, Thraves said.

Prescott's smaller chip size also allows Intel to cut more chips from a silicon wafer than is possible with the Northwood core. This cuts Intel's manufacturing costs per chip, and Intel will rapidly shift its customers to Prescott in order to take advantage of the lower costs.

Most of the major PC vendors plan to have systems available with the new chip yesterday, including Dell, HP and Sony. Prescott is suited for both business and consumer PCs, but contains 13 new instructions that help improve the performance of multimedia applications such as video, Thraves said.

One of those instructions will boost the performance of three-dimensional graphics when Intel's next-generation Grantsdale chipset is released later this year, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research. A new data format that enables the processor to perform matrix maths is a clear indication that Grantsdale and Prescott will help improve Intel's integrated graphics, he said.

Intel envisions Prescott as the centrepiece of the digital home, powering PCs such as the entertainment PC concept Intel unveiled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Siu said. The entertainment PC is just like a normal desktop, but is designed to look like a consumer electronics device such as a stereo receiver in order to appear more at home in a living room setting.

Intel also released a faster version of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition yesterday, as well as a faster Northwood Pentium 4 processor. The 3.4GHz Extreme Edition chip will be the highest performing chip in Intel's arsenal, and is targeted at gamers and technical users that demand high performance, Thraves said.

Intel plans to bring Prescott to 4GHz by the end of the year, Kay said.

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