Intel releases improved Celeron

New Celeron processors join Intel's lineup Wednesday, featuring speeds of 800 MHz and a faster system bus, now at 100 MHz (previous Celerons used a 66-MHz bus).

Systems with the new CPUs should arrive at your local retailer by month's end from major vendors such as Hewlett-Packard. Budget-conscious PC buyers can expect slightly better performance over existing Celeron systems -- and prices that stay in the sub-$1000 category.

For businesses or consumers who want Intel inside, Celeron systems are a good deal, says Rob Enderele, an analyst with Giga Information Group.

The Celeron's old 66-MHz bus created a bottleneck that slowed the system's performance; AMD's Duron uses a fast 200-MHz bus. As a result, Duron-based systems often outran Celeron-based systems with comparable processor speeds. With the new bus, Enderle says he doesn't expect users to see much, if any, performance difference between comparable-speed Celeron- and Duron-based systems.

The new Celeron systems "really represent the value in the market," he says. Celerons are part of Intel's economy line, he says, and the new chips "raise the bar for the bottom, bringing them up to a bar only recently exceeded by Pentium IIIs."

Slow move to 100 MHz

"It's about time," says Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst with MicroDesign Resources, referring to the Celeron's bus-speed increase.

There was no real reason to keep the units at 66 MHz other than Intel's need to maintain differentiation between the value Celerons and Pentium IIIs, which was a real shame for consumers, he says.

Intel spokesperson Seth Walker disagrees. Intel follows a pattern of releasing the right technology at the right time, aiming to offer balanced systems, he says. Intel increased the Celeron's bus speed to match the dominant memory in the market: PC-100 SDRAM and PC-133 SDRAM.

Because price is the main factor in the value segment, Intel had to balance the cost of system design with the overall performance needs of a system, he adds.

With this launch, Intel updates the fundamental hardware ingredients of value PCs -- CPU, bus, and chip set -- and "really moved the ball forward on what it is able to offer consumers," he says.

The new Intel chip set that supports the faster Celeron is called the 810E2. In addition to the faster bus speed, the chip set also includes improved USB, hard drive, and sound features, Walker says.

"We're starting 2001 aggressively," he says, "and aim to reinforce our lead in the value segment."

New Pentium 4

Intel also announced shipment of its 1.3-GHz Pentium 4, Walker says. Previously, the Pentium 4 was offered only at 1.4- and 1.5-GHz speeds.

The new systems are available from Dell right now, he says, starting at $1599. The new chip allows Intel to offer P4s at a mainstream $1500 price point and to move into the mainstream marketplace, he says.

MDR's Krewell doesn't think it's such a good move. "It's a mistake," he says. The product won't perform competitively, he says.

PC World lab tests show that systems based on Pentium 4 CPUs have experienced performance problems compared with Pentium IIIs on mainstream tasks and these new, slower P4s will make that even more noticeable.

"You're better off with a 1-GHz Pentium III than a 1.3-GHz Pentium 4," Krewell says. The P4 uses more expensive infrastructure -- the motherboarrd and memory cost more than that for PIIIs -- so you'll end up paying extra for a product that will underperform less-expensive systems, he says.

The new product should appeal only to those who buy strictly based on MHz -- or GHz -- and don't look beyond that to the real performance of the product, he says. Hobbyists who want to save a bit and are looking to overclock the system are the only other users who may buy these systems, he adds.

So why did Intel release this product? Vendors may have asked for products to fill the gap between 1-GHz PIIIs and 1.4-GHz P4s, he says. Also, that gap between PIIIs and P4s leaves AMD too much room to play, so Intel may have released the new product in order to tighten that gap and look more competitive, he says.

AMD has released 1.2- and 1.1-GHz Athlon CPUs, though 1.2-GHz Athlon systems paired with a 266-MHz bus and 266-MHz DDR SDRAM are delayed until February.

Meanwhile Intel's PIII stalled at 1 GHz when the company recalled its faulty 1.13-GHz PIII.

This story, "Intel releases improved Celeron" was originally published by PCWorld.

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