Low-cost Pentium Pros are on the way

Intel next week will formally unveil a chip set designed to bring powerful and affordable Pentium Pro-based systems to a large number of corporate desktops.

The three-chip 440FX chip set, formerly known as Natoma, will be used in desktop systems by vendors Dell, IBM, Digital, Gateway 2000, Hewlett-Packard, AST and Micron Technology, according to sources.

Along with the chip set, Intel will ship new desktop management software and three new motherboards; all of which are designed to let OEMs deliver Pentium Pro-based desktop PCs for less than US$3000.

The 440FX chip set is part of a larger effort to establish the Pentium Pro and Windows NT operating system as the corporate desktop solution of choice.

Since January, Pentium Pro systems have shipped with the OSes split between Windows 95 and NT, but that's expected to start shifting significantly toward NT later this year, a Dell representative says.

The new pricing is key to the systems' proliferation, analysts say.

"New system purchases are always substantial, so economics will dictate upgrades," says Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst for microprocessors at Dataquest, in San Jose, California. "But even if a company doesn't necessarily need new systems, if it's in the right price range, users will buy it."

He says that the performance boost provided by Pentium Pro-based PCs will assist the next generation of high-end applications.

Intel officials say the 440FX chip set running at 200MHz will deliver a 75% performance increase over a 166MHz Pentium-based desktop.

"We don't know yet what will grab all this horsepower. But when new applications arrive with performance enhancements, it's not just an accident," Brookwood says.

One of the first 440FX-based systems to ship will be the Dimension XPS Pro 200n from Dell. It will come with either 180MHz or 200MHz Pentium Pro processors with 256Kb of Level 2 cache.

A standard XPS configuration will include a 200MHz Pentium Pro, 32Mb of Extended Data Out RAM, a 2.5Gb hard drive, a 17in monitor, an eight-speed CD-ROM drive, three PCI and three ISA slots, and one shared slot.

The PC will come bundled with Windows 95 or Windows NT for a price of US$3595.

Pricing hasn't been set on the 180MHz model, Dell officials say.

The company is taking orders now and will begin shipping within a couple of weeks.

AST will ship at the end of the second quarter 440FX-based systems for the high-end of its Bravo desktop line. The systems will run at 180MHz and 200MHz.

Also expected from Intel are three new motherboards: the VS440FX ATX and AP440FX LPX single processor-based models, and the PR440FX custom ATX dual processor-based board, as well as LANDesk Client Manager, an application that simplifies local and network management of desktop client systems, Intel officials says.

The VS440FX is shipping now, and the AP440FX and PR440FX motherboards will ship in June and July, respectively, with prices ranging from US$293 to US$499.

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