Intel confirmed last night plans to rapidly replace the Pentium III chip family with the Pentium 4 on the desktop, as we suggested it might last week.
"The combination of a strong product family, solid manufacturing performance, and early availability of the new Intel 845 chipset platform allows Intel to aggressively ramp the Pentium 4 processor into all mainstream PC price points by the end of the year," said CEO Craig Barrett.
According to the most recent Intel desktop roadmap we've seen, that wasn't scheduled to happen until Q2 2002, so the chip giant is effectively pulling forward the release and eventual elimination of the PIII by at least three months.
The PIII will, of course, live on in the Celeron family, which will eventually be migrated over to the 0.13 micron Tualatin core. Intel didn't say so, but whispers in the industry suggest the Celeron roadmap may be accelerated too, specifically to get the 1GHz part out this year rather than Q1 2002.
And PIII isn't likely to disappear from the mobile sector soon - Mobile P4s are not expected until the middle of next year.
Equally, it's not known whether Intel actually plans to accelerate its planned P4 roll-out or simply spread the range out to push the PIII out of the Mainstream PC market - PCs costing between $1000 and $2000, according to Intel's categorisation.
Certainly the 2GHz P4 is scheduled to ship this quarter anyway, and the 0.13 micron P4 die-shrink, codenamed Northwood, is roadmapped to ship mid-Q4. Given the current state of the PC market, Intel is probably more interested in getting PIII out of the picture than accelerating P4 by a fraction of a gigahertz.
We shall see. However, our channel sources tell us that Dell already has 2GHz P4 samples, as have other first-tier vendors and a number of second-tier players. Pulling its release forward by a month or so may not make much difference given the market conditions, but it will give the PC industry a big psychological boost.
The i845 chipset that Intel hopes will drive P4 adoption is expected to ship in August, in time to allow PC vendors to ship machines based upon it for the back-to-school season in September.
Another motor will be price. Intel Architecture Group chief Paul Ottelini last night told analysts that "on price, we will do what we need to do to transition from the Pentium III to the Pentium 4". So expect some further price cuts on the P4 line over the coming months. ®