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Faster Chips to Come More Slowly

-- by Jim Forbes

Intel's got a habit of sending the next Pentium version out to notebook makers before machines with current versions even hit the stores. Talk about guaranteed prerelease obsolescence. Now, some OEMs are telling their biggest corporate customers that, finally, the chip giant may be slowing down a mite.

In early January, around the time Intel was rolling out its new Pentium MMX family, a couple of new releases aimed at the notebook market were also scheduled to launch. But that should be it for Intel processor releases for the first three calendar quarters of 1997. And by Intel's standards, that's a very long time indeed.

One of the new processors will have a 150MHz clock speed, representing the current top end of the notebook processor line; the other will exceed that at 166MHz. Sources close to Intel say both products will be available in notebook computers in retail outlets this month.

Analysts are quick to stress that the slowdown in processor rollouts is very good news for notebook manufacturers and corporate customers alike. In the past 12 months alone, Intel has introduced four different Pentium versions adapted specifically for notebook computers.

This breakneck innovation meant products were old even as they were being introduced. Intel's advances aside, it takes notebook makers up to nine months to design a new machine. Since many manufacturers typically launch new computers with new Pentium versions, the shortened shelf life Intel's pace dictates means the OEMs have virtually no breathing space between releases.

Of course, no one expects Intel to keep its foot on the brakes for very long. By year's end, the company will almost certainly be cranking out more new processors. An MMX-enhanced Pentium Pro line is slated for that time frame, as is a new series of chips built with a new, smaller fabrication process. The new process will allow Intel to design Pentium Pro processors that operate at speeds in excess of 200MHz and run cooler than existing products.

Windows Magazine, February 1997, page 56.

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