Klamath processors - multimedia-enhanced versions of Intel's P6 Pentium Pro-generation CPUs - will be available soon, but systems built around the devices are likely to be expensive, and at first they will lack some highly touted technologies.
Because of the number of new components required for Klamath-based systems, several industry observers expect the early round of Klamath PCs to sport hefty price tags. And with a lack of support for memory, graphics, and hard-disk access, some end-users will be tempted to delay system purchases.
A potential shortage of the new components is likely to increase system prices, say some observers.
"There are enough pieces of new infrastructure here that any one of them could become a bottleneck and restrict supply," one PC vendor said. Kevin Roberts, product manager at Advanced Logic Research Inc., says Klamath is going to require a lot of expensive engineering work on the part of PC purveyors.
"We're evaluating it for our systems, and it's going to require us to do a whole new design - boards, thermals, everything," Roberts says.
"You'll be looking at a new processor, motherboard, and core logic chip set, none of which have been sold in volume before," says Dean McCarron, an industry analyst at Mercury Research Inc. "Systems are going to be pricey, but we'll probably see them come down rapidly by the fourth quarter of 97."
One PC vendor, who requested anonymity, thinks early Klamath systems will likely cost more than $3,000.
"Klamath won't be a commodity solution, we think, until the new Intel chipset is released," he adds.
New technology always comes at a high price, at least at first, agrees Jon Khazam, marketing director for graphics programs at Intel in Santa Clara, Calif. The P6/MMX processor, scheduled for introduction in March or April, will be positioned above the Pentium Pro, and OEMs will price P6/MMX systems accordingly, he says.
At Klamath's introduction, Intel will be offering the 440FX chip set, which lacks synchronous DRAM, Accelerated Graphics Port, 33Mb/sec disk drive access, and other technologies, Khazam notes. An enhanced version of the chipset, which industry observers are calling the 440LX, will not be available until the second half of 1997, which may cause some buyers to hold off.
The 440LX will be expensive at first, too, Khazam says, although its price will then follow the usual "learning curve," dropping as production volume increases. While the initial price of the 440LX chipset is not likely to allow P6/MMX system prices to drop, it won't increase the already-high prices.
"No matter what the chip set price, systems are going to be more expensive than the systems they are replacing," Khazam notes.
Some core-logic chip set technologies are already available, said Don Clegg, director of marketing for system logic at Opti Inc. in Milpitas, Calif. His company's Discovery chip set has support for synchronous DRAM, for example, which Clegg calls a mainstream feature for corporate applications because it speeds operations.
"SDRAM is very important in a Pentium Pro or Klamath," says Clegg, who suggests that corporate users will not have to wait for the 440LX chip set to buy Klamath systems.
McCarron says a delay in full chipset support for the P6/MMX will be offset somewhat by the fact that Klamath's electrical interface - though not its physical interface - is the same as the Pentium Pro's. Therefore, Klamath systems will accept current Pentium Pro-based chipsets, including the 440FX and Discovery, although they will not produce the full benefits of the new processor.
Nonetheless, system vendors won't wait for the 440 LX Klamath chip set.
"It's all about being first to market with systems," McCarron says. "It's not unusual for the first chip sets not to have the highest performance, so vendors go ahead and put something out there, see how it works, then make improvements."