Just as one group of Intel engineers slips its schedule for the next-generation 64-bit Merced processor, Intel's 32-bit CPU designers are ramping up production more quickly than expected.
Chips coming off the assembly line are divided into speed grades, or bins, and more are running at a higher speed than anticipated, explained Angelo Matthews, director of equity research at CIBC Oppenheimer.
Pushing Intel to produce faster processors is the need to differentiate its CPUs from competitors', Matthews said. Competitors can claim lower costs, so Intel needs to "drive the performance curve", he said.
Introducing new CPUs faster will also give Intel high-performance chips to keep customers happy while they wait for the IA-64 Merced, said Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research.
In the first quarter of 1999, Intel will introduce the 500MHz Tanner processor, a Slot 2 CPU that has Intel's Katmai New Instructions to boost graphics performance.
The Tanner CPU will not plug into Slot M, the Merced interface. Some industry observers had expected Tanner to bridge the gap between IA-32 and IA-64 designs.
Before Tanner, Intel will roll out a 450MHz version of the Pentium II Xeon in the second half of this year. The first Pentium II Xeon processors will be introduced on June 30.
On the desktop, Intel will complement 350MHz and 400MHz Pentium II processors with a 450MHz CPU before the end of this year. Intel will unveil the Slot 1 Katmai processor in the first quarter of 1999, about four months ahead of schedule. Like Tanner, the chip will offer Katmai New Instructions.
At the low-cost end of the spectrum, Intel will move the scheduled launch of a 300MHz Celeron processor without L2 cache from this fourth quarter to next week.
More importantly, Intel will launch 300MHz and 333MHz versions of the Celeron CPU with on-chip L2 cache before the end of this year. The 300MHz chip, to be called Celeron-300a to differentiate it from the earlier processor, was scheduled for the fourth quarter, but the 333MHz version was not scheduled to appear until next year.