Intel's fastest Pentium 4 runs at 1.5GHz, but the next-generation CPU is unlikely to show its performance potential until it hits the 2GHz mark, says one industry analyst.

Systems with Intel's own 1GHz Pentium III often outperform PCs with the Pentium 4 in tests run by MicroDesign Resources, senior analyst Kevin Krewell noted at last week’s microprocessor report seminar in Santa Clara, California.

It's frustrating that systems with the early versions of the P4 aren't performing better, according to Krewell. "They put a lot of work into it and the fact that they couldn't do better [at launch] is disappointing," he says.

But when the P4 scales to higher frequencies, it will start outperforming its rivals significantly. Higher speeds will allow it to better use its fast 400-MHz front side bus, according to Krewell.

Intel says the Pentium 4 will reach 2GHz by the third quarter of 2001. But while 1GHz was a magic number, some people may consider 2GHz overkill even a year from now.

Intel has pushed the P4 very little so far, Krewell notes. Perhaps Intel doesn't want to advertise heavily and then run out of chips, he suggests. Intel introduced the part late in the year and hasn't ramped up manufacturing yet, he says.

If prospective buyers can't find a 1.5GHz P4, they may be more likely to consider systems with AMD's Athlon running at 1.1 and 1.2 GHz, Krewell says. Instead of promoting a possible short supply of P4s and risk losing customers to the competition, Intel is pushing them toward the now-plentiful PIII-based systems.

Krewell also suggests that Intel has delayed the re-release of its recalled 1.13-GHz PIII processor because it might outperform current P4s.