Intel threads its way into replacement cycles

Chip frequency may be old hat, but Intel’s latest desktop processor promises something more than a 3GHz clock speed -- technology that could prove the deciding factor in a customer’s decision to upgrade.

Hyper-threading (HT) technology can boost a PC’s performance by up to 25 per cent, according to Intel. The feature, which is built into the latest 3.06GHz Pentium 4 chip, allows it to process multiple threads of code simultaneously. The processor acts like a dual chip system, allowing users to more effectively multitask CPU-intensive applications such as playing a PC game while burning a CD.

“We will see people doing more with a PC than they have ever done before,” said Intel Australia managing director David Bolt. “We are not just talking about performance gains. It allows you to do things that you wouldn’t be able to do without Hyper-threading.”

Although the technology is nothing new to Intel servers, this is the first time it has been integrated into desktop systems. The technology is supported by Windows XP and on Linux 7.4 flavours, such as Red Hat 7.2.

Gartner analyst Ian Bertram said that while there aren’t many applications out there that currently take advantage of HT, the performance gains on XP alone should benefit users. Gartner is predicting a surge in PC sales in around six months, when this new technology synchronises with replacement cycles.

“Three gigahertz -- who cares? There’s not much in 3GHz but HT is interesting,” he said. “Intel has brought it out at a very good time. Replacement cycles have been extended with Y2K and GST to four years. So if an organisation upgraded in 1999, in six months time people will again be looking to upgrade. By that stage we will begin to see corporations taking on HT.”

Local assemblers are already offering HT systems. ASI Solutions’ initial system, the Ossa W220 workstation, is a machine with an impressive array of specs that bundles an LCD display with keyboard, mouse and top-end components such as 1GB of RDRAM. The system retails for $5,975. It’s a hefty price for a finished machine, but ASI is also offering its customers the option of an HT-ready machine. Users can then upgrade to the HT processors when prices come down, which also helps preserve standard operating environments (SOEs).

“Organisations want to get at least 12 months out of an SOE,” said Craig Quinn, ASI Solutions product manager for imaging products. As part of Intel’s stable platform program, ASI is using the new Intel 845GE chipset, designed for the new HT chips. “Jumping on board with those chipsets will allow us to run through several revisions of motherboards without changing the client’s image,” he said.

Optima will initially target the retail sector, but will also make systems available to its corporate clients.

“We are taking it across the board,” said Optima product manager Joshua Carr. Systems will start at a retail price of $2,999 for a base system, and will work up to around $4,000, he said.

“I think the $2,999 price point will be very hot, especially in retail,” Carr said. “I think people are still looking for more powerful machines, and there are lots more applications to come.”

The new 3GHz processor is priced at US$637 in 1,000-unit quantities.

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