Intel's first low-cost Pentium II processor, targeted at the low-end PC market, should be viewed as a stop-gap product which will be eclipsed by a more sophisticated version before the end of the year, a Dataquest analyst says.
Code-named Covington and due to ship in April, the chip has been stripped of a number of features found on regular Pentium II processors, most notably its Level 2 cache, a memory feature which improves a computer's performance by making data more readily available to the processor.
The goal is to make a Pentium II processor which is cheap enough to target the market for sub-US$1,000 PCs, said Albert Yu, senior vice president of Intel's microprocessor products group, in a keynote address at the Intel Developers Forum here today.
But Level 2 cache is central to the performance capabilities of the Pentium II, and removing it means the Covington chip will not perform as well as a fully-fledged Pentium II running at the same clock speed, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Dataquest.
Performance will be "a weak aspect of the product," Brookwood said. The only benefit to the end-user of removing the Level 2 cache will be the processor's reduced cost, he added.
Before the end of this year, Intel will release another Pentium II for low-end PCs, codenamed Mendocino, which will have a built-in Level 2 cache, Intel's Yu said. The Mendocino processor will be built using a more advanced 0.25 micron technology, which will allow Intel to price the chip low enough to compete in the low-end PC space, he said.
Covington is part of a broader Intel strategy to move all the company's chips to the P6 microarchitecture, which includes the Pentium Pro and Pentium II designs, Yu said. Intel's processors for servers and high-end PCs already support P6, and for laptop machines, there will be a Pentium II design by the end of the year, he said.
But the current red-hot market for low-cost PCs means Intel wants to release a chip into that space now, and offering a new Pentium processor would not mesh with the company's marketing strategy, Dataquest's Brookwood said.
"Intel wants to see Pentium IIs used all the way down, from servers to low-cost PCs. So in order to do that they have to have Covington," Brookwood said.
An Intel official acknowledged today that the Covington chip may not perform as well without Level 2 cache, but said users who buy low-cost PCs generally do not require the additional processing power. Home users typically want to connect to the Internet and read e-mail, for which the inclusion of Level 2 cache is not necessary, said Dan Russell, director of platform marketing for Intel.