At Comdex in Las Vegas in November, Intel will let PC vendors show off systems, in public and behind closed doors, that use more than a dozen processors the company will introduce during the next six months.
With 11 new chips planned on being shown privately to key customers, Intel is laying the groundwork for an ever-increasing variety of systems that PC vendors will roll out in the next year.
On the show floor at Comdex, server makers will offer "technology demos" of systems that use the Profusion core-logic chip set and eight 450MHz Pentium II Xeon processors, with 2Mbof Level 2 (L2) cache memory, one Intel executive said.
Among the systems that vendors can show only in private suites are four-processor servers that use a 450MHz Pentium II Xeon processor, with 1Mb or 2Mb of L2 cache, along with the 450NX chip set. These CPUs incorporate a new "stepping," or manufacturing version, of the processor to eliminate the problems that plagued earlier Pentium II Xeon CPUs in four-way configurations, said Anthony Ambrose, director of marketing at Intel's Enterprise Server Group, in Beaverton, Oregon.
In general, Intel's nascent strategy of segmentation will give IT managers more choices, but it will make their jobs tougher as they wade through a mountain of specification sheets.
And while Intel is broadening its product base, the company further frustrates customers by continuing to push the speeds of its high-end processors.
"We don't need all of that power," said Alan Boehme, director of strategic planning at DHL, in Redwood City, California, and a member of the InfoWorld Corporate Advisory Board. "We're not doing scientific computing in the field," added Boehme, whose company is currently in the process of buying several hundred notebooks.
PC makers, too, see a down side in the overabundance of CPUs.
"It will give IT managers more decisions to make beyond [simply ordering] the latest and greatest speeds and feeds," said an executive at a PC supplier, who requested anonymity. "You can't just ask for the high end anymore. There's more than one high end. It's hard to plan products because we don't know which chips the customer will choose."
For example, in the notebook space Intel will be offering four versions of mobile CPUs that run at the same speed -- 300MHz -- in the spring of 1999, sources said. In mainstream mobiles, Intel will augment its 233MHz, 266-MHz, and 300MHz Pentium II chips with 266MHz, 300MHz, 333MHz, and 366MHz CPUs that use the Dixon core, which incorporates 256K bytes of on-chip L2 cache. The new 266MHz and 300MHz chips will carry the suffix "PE," for Performance Enhanced, to differentiate them from their older, more expensive siblings.
At about the same time, Intel will release a 300MHz Pentium MMX processor, which is small enough for mininotebooks.
Behind closed doors at the show, vendors can also show Basic PCs that use the upcoming 366MHz Celeron processor.
Buyers will get a sneak peek at the first mobiles to use Celeron CPUs, due in April, which will run at 233MHz, 266MHz, or 300MHz and be housed in a new, lower-cost package, sources said.
What Intel will not be showing, or even offering, is a mobile version of the Katmai processor, the next-generation processor for desktop and server systems, according to an Intel executive. As it stands now, a mobile Katmai would have come to market at about the same time as Coppermine, a 0.18-micron shrink of Katmai, which is due third quarter next year.
In between Katmai and Coppermine, notebook buyers will likely miss some of Katmai's features, including Katmai New Instructions and security features that are built into the processor for access control, asset tracking, user identification, and software copy protection. The dual-frequency and dual-power mode once planned for Katmai will also not appear until Coppermine ships.
Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at (800) 628-8686 or www.intel.com.
The highest performance available for each application will jump during the next few months as Intel rolls out faster processors across the board. The surfeit of new processors will give buyers more choices -- and more headaches.
Application 1998 1999
High-end servers (eight-way) None Pentium II Xeon/450
Midrange servers (four-way) Pentium II Xeon/400 Pentium II Xeon/450
Workstations (two-way) Pentium II Xeon/450 Tanner/500
Performance PCs Pentium II/450 Katmai/500
Basic PCs Celeron/333 Celeron/366
Notebooks Pentium II/300 Pentium II/366
Basic notebooks Pentium MMX/266 Celeron/300
Mininotebooks Pentium MMX/233 Pentium MMX/300