Due to my recent visit to the Bay Area I could gather quite a bit of information about the future development on the CPU market. Here are some short summaries about what will happen next in the big x86 CPU companies.
My full day meeting with Intel in Santa Clara last week was a very pleasant experience. I wasn't only supplied with quite a bit of interesting information about various topics, but received also a very enjoyable and friendly treatment. Intel is certainly concerned about improving the relationship with the press and it was obious that they were choosing just the right people to accomplish this. Hence I'd like to announce my complete peace with Intel. I look forward to a friendly relationship in the future.
Before I will talk about Intel's latest CPU plans, I would like to recommend one thing for all of you that are interested in the actual CPU manufacturing process. If you should ever be in Silicon Valley, don't miss the Intel museum. There you can see all the various steps in chip manufacturing, starting at the production of a silicon ingot and finishing with the packaging of the chip. You'll find it in Santa Clara, Mission College Blvd., off Montague Express Way (reached from Freeway 101, 680 or 880). I only had about 15 minutes of rushing through it, but if you've got the time you can easily spend several hours in there.
Intel's spokesmen are extremely optimistic these days and I was wondering why. However if you hear the plans for the next 6 months you might understand why. First of all nobody is really talking of Socket 7 anymore, and if, then only in combination with MMX and notebooks. Intel will very soon release a .25 micron low power Pentium MMX, codename 'Tillamook', which will run at 2.5 V or even less, so that notebooks can take advantage of MMX applications in the near future.
The next thing, which I already announced about a month ago will be a Pentium II for Socket 8, called 'Pentium Pro Overdrive'. This CPU will come with something like a 'back package' where the external level 2 cache of the Pentium II will be located, combined with a heat sink. Since this CPU won't have much more in common with the Pentium Pro than the socket it plugs in, it will also reach the clock speeds of the Pentium II, which currently are 233, 266 and 300 MHz. Before ever getting this CPU please make sure that your board supports the higher multiplier settings of x3.5, x4 and x4.5.
The Pentium II is of course Intel's favourite child these days and hence you can expect the most news here. Within probably this year, but latest at the beginning of 1998 there will be 3 (three!) different kinds of Pentium II CPUs. One is the Pentium II we already know that fits into Slot One. The next one will be a smaller special low power version for notebooks, since you can imagine that the huge cartridge of the current Pentium II would hardly fit into any notebook, let alone the immense power consumption of this CPU. Number three will be the most interesting and maybe also upsetting version for all real power users. This third version will come with a larger level 2 cache that will run at clock speed instead of half the clock speed in the current Pentium II. Due to mechanical reasons (this is at least Intel's version) this new high performance Pentium II will come in a new and different package for a new slot that might be called 'Slot Two' (no confirmation from Intel about the name). This new high end Pentium II will also solve some maybe unknown limitations of the current Pentium II, which are
- only 512 MB cacheable area (Pentium Pro does 4 GB)
This seems to be a kinda serious problem, since the Pentium II would only run with more than 512 MB RAM in case you disable both caches, the L2 and the L1 cache, which decreases the performance of this CPU down to something in the area of a Pentium 100. Without disabling the caches, the system would crash.
- only running in dual CPU configuration, no quad or higher configuration possible (Pentium Pro can run at any multi CPU configuration)
Hence no quad-CPU servers possible with the current Pentium II.
Hence this new high performance Pentium II will first be targeted to the high end server and workstation market. Whoever wants to get this CPUs for his system will need a new motherboard with a new CPU connector, so be careful with buying a Slot One board unless you either want to stick to the current Pentium II or you don't care about buying another one pretty soon.