Pentium 4 positioning a puzzle

How are PC firms supposed to sell it?

Ignoring the rash of benchmarks we've seen on the Web over the last month or so, including our own contribution to the party, it's still hard to see how PC companies are supposed to sell systems using the 1.4GHz Pentium 4 when it launches come October.

Is it the type of machine you want to buy yourself for Yuletide?

Although senior Intel executives were at pains to tell delegates at its Autumn Developer Forum that the chip was aimed at performance systems costing $2,000 plus, and although it dropped prices of its Pentium III 1GHz chip last Monday, it's still hard to see where the Pentium 4 finds its niche.

In the event, price and performance may turn out to be all-important for the Pentium 4, and that's largely because of the high profile both Intel and AMD have given to what we at The Reg call Raw Megahurtz Speed (RMS).

The future of the Pentium 4 is complicated by a number of factors, one of which is that come Q2 next year, it is being delivered with a whole new pin out. That has deterred a number of Intel's Taiwanese partners from immediately supporting the chip pulling the gravy train.

There can be no doubt whatever that Intel will not pitch the Pentium 4 head-to-head against AMD and its Athlon platform.

That would be highly dangerous for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is still a feeling within the corporation that AMD is an imitator, and it is likely to go a-marketing with the Pentium 4 and its Netburst architecture as the perfect platform for the Internet, for video streaming and for other graphic intensive platforms, at which it may well shine.

Secondly, once all of the hardware sites get their mitts on a Pentium 4, there will be benchmarketing madness, and the first thing they're going to do is to compare the Pentium 4 against the latest Athlon (it could be 1.2 or more GHz by then). You can't blame the hardware sites for doing this -- if you're going to spend megabucks on megahurtz, you want to know how it will affect your purse.

Thirdly, AMD, as well as having additional clock speeds up its corporate sleeves, is close to pressing the button on its next generation of x86 technology.

Intel may also find itself on the horns of a self-created dilemma, because people will want to compare the Pentium 4 against the fastest Pentium III they manufacture. If the comparisons are in any way odious, this will not do Chipzilla any favours either.

Without entering into the merits or demerits of the Pentium 4 as a graphics engine par excellence, it's worth remembering the mess Intel got itself into when it launched the MMX platform.

Does Intel have the software support from software and Internet developers to allow the Pentium 4 to use the additional instructions on the processor?

You can forget all about the games market. A mole told us in San Jose a fortnight back that Intel was staying well away from games after the Columbine killings last year.

If the big PC vendors are puzzled by the introduction of the Pentium 4 and how to position it, we must say that we can hardly blame them. The battle lines have radically changed over the last year and fings ain't wot they used to be.

We note from a quick search of our archives that we first started mentioning the Willamette design in 1997 (see link to processor roadmap below). By then, it was already clear that what was to become the Pentium 4 design already was well advanced, with additional instructions slated. The chip world moves ever so fast, and in those days AMD was hardly considered a threat at all.

We've some sympathy for the chip devil. The world has revolved quite a few times since those days. ®

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