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Intel reaches Pentium 4 speed limit at 3.8GHz

Focus shifts from speed to cache memory

As expected, Intel introduced a 3.8GHz Pentium 4 processor on Monday in what could represent the end of an era for the chip maker.

The Pentium 4 570 processor at 3.8GHz will have the fastest clock speed of any processor available from Intel for an indefinite period. Intel has decided to cancel a planned 4GHz Pentium 4 processor and improve the performance of its desktop chips by adding cache memory.

Intel originally designed the Pentium 4 processor to run at faster and faster clock speeds and for years planned its marketing campaigns around those increases in clock speed. However, this year the company realised that the engineering resources required to eke out additional speed gains could be put to better use.

The most recent Pentium 4 processors consume a great deal of power and can produce excessive heat within a PC, requiring additional testing and validation before they can be released.

Adding cache memory to processors is a cooler and easier way to improve processor performance, Intel said last month. Cache memory stores frequently used data close to the processor where it can be accessed much faster than data stored in the main memory chips. Starting in early 2005, Intel's Pentium 4 chips will receive an additional 1MB of cache memory, bringing the total to 2MB.

Intel's dual-core processors are scheduled to arrive in the second half of 2005. They will run at slower clock speeds than existing single-core processors. Analysts believe that Intel might keep a low-end single-core processor in its product lineup heading into 2006 and bring that chip above 4GHz at some point in the future, but Intel has not confirmed any plans to release faster chips.

The Pentium 4 570 processor will be available in HP's Compaq X 5010T Gaming PC starting on Wednesday. Dell also plans to offer the processor for its Dimension XPS gaming PC.

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