Intel appears to have bowed to PC vendor pressure to release a low cost processor using the Socket architecture, but denies it will abandon its proprietary alternative, Slot One.
The chip giant will release versions of forthcoming Mendocino processor for budget PCs for both architectures early next year. Mendocino is the next release of the Celeron CPU, targeted at the burgeoning sub-$1,000 PC market, which currently does not support Socket.
The Socket versions of Mendocino will be cheaper than the Slot ones, although Intel claims they will be identical in functionality - but they will not be compatible with earlier socket designs from Intel or clonemakers.
The price will appease some system makers, which have complained about the wafer thin margins they make from consumer PCs built round Slot One chips.
An Intel representative said: "The idea is that it's cheaper to make and you won't need retaining clips on the processor, as with Slot One." OEMs, he said, were told of Intel's plans a few days ago.
But he said that Mendocino's socket design, which Intel will call 370-pin Socket, will be incompatible with either Socket Seven, used by competitors AMD and Natsemi-Cyrix, or Socket Eight, used in the Pentium Pro.
The reason for this is not to create difficulties for clonemakers, but because the older socket architectures would not support the new P6 bus, included in Mendocino. "The P6 bus can't run on Socket Seven," the spokesperson said. "This is specifically designed for the P6 and is a different product to the Pentium."
Intel representatives were keen to focus on the bus rather than the interface design, although they acknowledged the change of heart was confusing. "The socket means nothing, it's the bus that is important, and this processor will use our P6 bus," said a US spokesperson.
Intel also wants to squash any speculation that this could mean the end of the Slot architecture. The UK representative said that the 333MHz Mendocino processor will now come in both Slot One and 370-pin versions but "Slot One will continue to be the performance platform".
He confirmed that the first chips to appear will be at clock speeds of 300MHz and 333MHz, and come with integrated level two cache of 128Kbytes.
But the move is bound to irritate competitors Natsemi-Cyrix and AMD - which have resisted moving to Slot One so far, although they admit Socket Seven is reaching its performance limits.
Intel's new socket design could become part of a broadening enquiry by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), depending how it is licensed. Intel may license the 370-pin socket to others, but, like Slot One, that is likely to come at a premium.
* Intel will announce an 8Mg graphics card called the Express3D in the next few days. It will be bundled with 'soft DVD' from third party company Zoran.
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