Intel delays Timna release until 2001

Timna, which had been due to ship in the second half of this year, was designed originally to work with a high-performance memory type known as Rambus DRAM (dynamic random access memory). Prices for Rambus DRAM have remained relatively high, however, and Intel must use a component known as a MTH (memory translator hub) so that the processor can work with more affordable SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) components.

Therein lies the problem. Last month, Intel announced that it would recall thousands of motherboards designed around its 820 chipset because of a problem with the MTH that has the potential to cause system failures. The chip maker is apparently unwilling to risk using the same MTH with its Timna processor, so it is quickly designing a new one.

"We've determined that (today's MTH) doesn't meet Intel's standards for quality and reliability," Intel spokesman Seth Walker said in a phone interview today. "As such, we will design a new memory interface product to be used specifically with Timna."

"Intel is going to wait to ship the Timna processor until that new memory interface is complete," and until PC manufacturers are ready to launch Timna-based systems into the market, Walker said.

Intel insisted that the delay isn't due to any problems with the Timna processor itself - only with the memory interface that connects the processor to SDRAM memory chips.

While the delay may bruise Intel's pride, at least one analyst said today's news isn't very significant for the company from a competitive standpoint, or for consumers.

Timna's design, which integrates the processor, graphics chip and memory controllers onto a single piece of silicon, might help reduce the overall cost of building a PC by as much as $US25 for PC manufacturers. But a saving that small is unlikely to translate into lower system prices for end users, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with California-based research firm Insight 64.

In addition, Timna was unlikely to offer a significant performance boost over a standard Celeron processor used in conjunction with Intel's 810E chipset, which includes an integrated graphics chip, Brookwood said.

"Intel's branding strategy was never really to say ‘Here's a hot new product'," Brookwood said. "Timna was going to be slipped in there as another one of the Celerons."

Intel's main rival, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), doesn't currently offer an integrated processor to compete with Timna. Taiwan's Via Technologies is developing such an intagrated device, but it's not clear yet when that product will ship, and Via's products are aimed more at manufacturers in Asia, Brookwood said.

Intel will devote the additional capacity in its manufacturing plants that it saves from delaying Timna to producing more of its high-performance Pentium III processors, which have been in short supply. However, Intel still expects supplies of those processors to remain tight into the second half of this year, he added. The Timna delay also isn't expected to have a material impact on Intel's financial performance, Walker said.

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James Niccolai

PC World
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