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10/96 Cover Story: HOT STUFF!

High Power, Low Price

Hot Stuff! Introduction High Power, Low PriceBoost Your Memory-Now!Store More!What
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The $2,400 System- Then and Now

Pinpointing the cause of the PC's recent plunge to the bargain basement is easy. Just blame Intel.Increasingly, features that once required separate cards are being incorporated into PC motherboards. Despite the rapidly increasing component count in the average PC, the processor continues to consume at least 25 percent of PC manufacturers' component costs. This year, about 85 percent of those PC processors were Intel Pentiums.

Intel continues to follow Moore's Law, a concept introduced by Gordon Moore, one of the company's founders. Moore's Law predicts successive doubling of semiconductor density, and hence capability, every 18 months. Intel is accomplishing this by launching new Pentium chips at an unprecedented rate-five new Pentium versions and four new Pentium Pro lines within the past 12 months-while rapidly cutting prices of older models. Intel's technological stampede, however, may have backfired. Both users and computer vendors have complained about the rapid obsolescence of older Pentiums. Intel promised to slow the Pentium's downward cost spiral. Late this summer, the company announced it would cancel a planned November price cut to help prices level off in late fall or early winter.

But Intel also has new processors-with pioneering technologies-in the works. These should rekindle the price wars by early spring. A pin-compatible version of the current Pentium, the P55C line, will come in 166MHz and 200MHz models with rich new multimedia features. Another new chip, code-named Klamath, offers new, far more powerful levels of on-board multimedia processing. (See Will You Clamor for Klamath?)

You can take advantage of plummeting PC prices. Analysts say the following systems will be best deals by year's end:

Although Intel will be pushing the P6 in 1997, the best deals won't appear until the second half of the year, as the market edges closer to the joint Intel/Hewlett-Packard P7 project, 1998's successor to the still-new P6 microprocessor.

In the meantime, experts say, price is your best path up the power ladder. One good rule of thumb-if there's less than $400 difference in cost between a PC and the same model with the next-faster processor, buy the better model. If the difference between them is more than $400, you're probably paying a premium for a minimal power gain.
-Jim Forbes and Cynthia Morgan

Will You Clamor for Klamath?

Intel will launch a new form of its Pentium Pro microprocessor, code-named Klamath, in mid-1997. That could spell the beginning of the end for the four-year-old P5 Pentium.Based on the Pentium Pro, Klamath's new microcode makes it run more efficiently than the Pro. Market analysts who track CPU technology believe the Klamath will improve on the Pentium Pro's price/performance ratio, which should appeal mainly to high-end users who require extensive multimedia support and extremely fast performance. Klamath should ship with a base 256KB of direct-connected level 2 cache memory and offer a full set of multimedia extensions that will help it run Windows 95 applications more efficiently, say sources close to Intel.

Intel will package the Klamath as a printed circuit card that plugs into a motherboard socket, instead of the heat-sink-topped chip form of existing Intel Pentium and Pentium Pro processors. The new processor and the motherboards designed to use it also support a technology called advanced graphics port (AGP), which purportedly improves the performance of 3-D graphics applications.

At this point, it's nearly impossible to give Klamath-equipped systems a price tag, but they should enter the market priced slightly higher than those with older chips. A Klamath-equipped computer with a typical configuration, including a 64-bit 3-D graphics chip, 4MB of video memory, 20MB to 32MB of system memory and 2GB hard drive, should cost about $5,000, with entry-level pricing in the $3,500 to $4,000 range.-Jim Forbes

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