While Intel?s fastest, highest price Pentium II processors remain unchallenged in the x86 compatible space, competing chipmakers are sensing a vulnerability at the low end of its offering.
Representatives from the three major vendors of Intel compatible processors, AMD, Cyrix and IDT, outlined their plans in a debate at the PC Tech Forum in San Jose.
?You will see $599 PCs from the majors this summer," said Dan Swearingen, senior director of business management and marketing at Cyrix. ?You will see 300MHz $599 PCs for Christmas."
Intel has struggled to offer chips that appeal to manufacturers of sub-$1,000 dollar PCs ? a market that currently represents about 40 per cent of new US retail sales.
The new low end Celeron chip, a 'crippled' Pentium II without Level 2 cache currently priced at $155, has been slammed for lacklustre performance. Pentium II chips are priced $200 and up. Competitors are offering processors in a wide range of clock speeds for prices between $100 and $200, or lower.
Swearingen indicated that Cyrix, now a subsidiary of National Semiconductor, is moving its focus from its high end M2 processor to its integrated MediaGX product line, which is geared towards low priced systems.
Glenn Henry, founder and president of IDT subsidiary Centaur Technology, said the company would bet on low price to gain market share. ?We can make a profit at a much lower price than anyone else," he said. IDT currently sells a 200MHz Pentium class chip for $50.
In fact, AMD appeared to be the only company left with the ambition of matching Intel?s chip portfolio at virtually every level. Marketing director Dana Krelle predicted that, with its next-generation K7 processor, AMD ?should be able to take on the best of what is out there?. He said the chip was designed to match the performance of Intel?s Willamette chip, the successor to the Pentium II, planned for 1999.
Both IDT and Cyrix are integrating a number of motherboard components into the processor. They hope lower chip counts may lead to lower total system costs, which is important for entry level systems. But also, by integrating Level 2 cache and/or the Dram controller on the chip, vendors can bypass the limitations of the Socket 7 processor bus ? without having to move to the Intel controlled Slot 1 architecture.
Swearingen also said Cyrix ?might? at some point ship a processor based on Intel?s Slot 1. ?But it will be for tactical, not strategic reasons," he said. AMD is basing its K7 chip on what it is calling Slot A, using Digital?s Alpha processor bus.
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