Intel launches 933MHz PIII

Intel launches its 933-MHz Pentium III yesterday, amid considerably less hype than surrounded the company's 1-GHz chip announcement in March. But while the 933-MHz chip might not pack the same emotional wallop as hitting a gigahertz, PC World tests show it performs almost as well--and 933-MHz systems should cost less.

Major vendors, including Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, IBM, and Quantex, are releasing new 933-MHz systems yesterday. Hewlett-Packard plans to launch Pavilions powered by PIII-933s in coming weeks.

PC World's preliminary tests are on a 933-MHz Quantex PC with 128MB of PC800 RDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, a 12X DVD-ROM drive, a CD-RW drive, a 19-inch monitor, and Windows 98 Second Edition. Its price is $2899.

The Quantex scored a 163 on PC WorldBench 2000, which is an insignificant percentage difference when compared to the 165 scored by the single 1-GHz Intel PIII-based IBM Aptiva system that PC World tested.

Available Alternative to 1 GHz

The close score, however, is significant because Intel is shipping the 1-GHz PIII in only limited release until the second half of this year, so availability is tight, and prices are high. Under these conditions, systems powered by a 933-MHz CPU are a more widely available and more affordable alternative. The IBM Aptiva test system contains 128MB of RDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, Windows 98 SE, and cost $2999 sans monitor at launch.

Obviously, this is just the first pass; tests of two systems from two vendors don't offer sweeping conclusions.

That said, the Quantex system only slightly outperforms the average of four 866-MHz PIII systems. That foursome, each with 128MB of memory, produced an averaged score of 158 compared to the 933-MHz Quantex score of 163.

The Quantex's score also barely nudges past the PC WorldBench 2000 score of 158, posted by three systems running Advanced Micro Device's 1-GHz Athlon processor and 256MB of less expensive SDRAM memory. Prices on 1-GHz Athlon systems have generally been lower than those of comparably configured 1-GHz PIII systems.

Dell, Compaq, IBM in the Wings

Despite the somewhat anticlimactic feel of the 933-MHz announcement, vendors are confidant high-end buyers will embrace the new chip, even with the 1-GHz PIII looming.

"The 1-GHz was definitely a milestone," says Alan Patterson, Dimension product manager for Dell. But supply is still limited on the 1-GHZ chip, he says. Consequently, the 933-MHz PIII will be "the highest-performing processor available in mass quantities."

Dell has been selling 1-GHz systems "as fast as we can make them," Patterson says. But the 933-MHz systems will appeal to people who want ultrahigh performance at a lower price.

Dell will offer the 933-MHz PIII initially in its Dimension XPS B series, which features only Rambus memory, he says. Systems are configured to order, but Dell offers up two recommended configurations, both with Windows 98 SE.

The first sells for $3277 and includes 128MB of RDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, a 12X DVD-ROM drive, an 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, a 19-inch monitor, and Microsoft Office 200 Professional.

The second configuration ships with 128MB RDRAM, a 20GB hard drive, a 48X CD-ROM drive, a 17-inch monitor, and Microsoft Works for $2049.

Compaq Picks SDRAM

Compaq is offering a Presario 5900T system through its Web site and retail kiosks starting Wednesday, says Mark Vena, director of its consumer desktop product marketing division. Unlike Dell, Compaq will offer its 933-MHz PIII systems with more affordable SDRAM instead of the pricey RDRAM.

Compaq picked SDRAM for the Presario line to keep prices down, Vena says. RDRAM will make its way into the Presario line later this year when Compaq introduces a product based on Intel's upcoming Willamette CPU, he says.

In the meantime, the starter configuration for the 5900T includes the 933-MHz PIII, 64MB of SDRAM, a 10GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive that reads at up to 40x, and a 15-inch monitor for $1769. More robust configurations will top out at about $2500.

IBM is announcing a 933-MHz Aptiva system, available exclusively through its Web site. The Aptiva 990 includes 128MB of SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, a 4X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, and an 8X/40X DVD-ROM drive for $2109. A matching 17-inch monitor sells for an additional $279.

Intel: Think Dual

Intel is also pushing vendors to use the 933-MHz PIII with its dual-CPU 840 chip set.

Computers used for complex financial analysis or highly graphical Web material can benefit from dual processors, says Intel spokesperson George Alfs.

The 933-MHz PIII is the last sub-1-GHz desktop PIII Intel intends to release, Alfs notes. But the Pentium III isn't topping out.

Intel expects to increase production of 1-GHz PIIIs in the second half of the year, and to release at least faster PIII, he says. After that comes the Willamette chip.

"Willamette will be high end," he says, "and there's still plenty of room for more PIII performance."

Intel also announced Wednesday its latest Xeon processor, also running at 933 MHz.

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