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Thursday, September 23, 2004
Intel seeks higher performance from cheap desktops

The chipmaker unveiled on Wednesday its Intel Express 910GL, a chipset that offers PC makers the ability to add more advanced features, such as Intel High Definition Audio, to their low-end PCs.

Chipsets, which act like a PC's central nervous system by handling the flow of data inside the machine, have become more important to Intel of late. Because so many PC makers use its chipsets, Intel has begun using the components to add more capabilities to PCs and thus help foster new ways in which people can use computers. The practice works to boost the value of PCs in new markets, such as the digital home, and also encourages people to upgrade.

The 910GL's inclusion of Intel High Definition Audio, for example, promises to improve how low-price PCs play music, boosting sound quality and offering multiple audio channels. The chipset also integrates a higher-performance graphics processor, which Intel says delivers better performance for basic computer games; along with PCI express, the high-performance interface for add-in cards. It does not include Intel's Wireless Connect Technology, which can turn a PC into a Wi-Fi base station, or other advanced features, such as RAID. Otherwise known as Redundant Array of Independent Disks, RAID uses two or more hard drives to improve performance or protect data.

Instead, the 910GL offers more standard elements, including a 533MHz front-side bus--or data pathway between processors--and support for PC3200 memory, otherwise known as 400MHz Double Data Rate SDRAM. While important, as they too affect a PC's performance, the two features are already available in less-expensive Intel chipsets, such as the 865G.

The 910GL lists for $34. It thus offers many of the same elements as Intel's main high-performance chipset--the Intel Express 915G--for about $10 less, giving PC makers a lower-cost option for updating lower-price desktops. Right now, 915G desktops with Pentium 4 500-series processors start at about $750 to $850. However, machines that use the 910GL will likely sell for prices in the range of $600 to $700, an Intel representative said. They should thus help bridge the gap between 915G chipset desktops and 865G desktops, which don't offer the 900-series chipsets' newer features.

Intel expects the 910GL to replace the low-price 845G, which came out in 2002, and the 865G, as its main chipset for low-price PCs, the representative said.

However, that transition isn't likely to happen all at once, as 865G chipset variants such as the 865GV appear to have life left in them. PC maker Dell recently moved its low-price Dimension desktop to the 865GV, allowing it to offer many of the same features as the 910GL, including Intel's latest Celeron D and most of the chipmaker's Pentium 4 chips, along with relatively speedy 400MHz DDR-SDRAM.

"Chipsets tend to have a pretty long lifetime, the most extreme example being the (Intel) 810, which lived more than five years in desktops," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. "Because of the (910GL's) feature set, it is a more expensive value (low-price) chipset, and that will limit its acceptance. A lot of the widely used value chipsets have prices that are in the ballpark of $20, and we're clearly above that" with the 910GL.

The 910GL is likely to come down in price over time, however, helping it penetrate the market. Though some 910GL desktops will appear for the holidays, the chipset missed the back-to-school seasons and comes after many PC makers have begun their holiday season buildups, meaning that at first, it might not be as popular as some other low-price chipsets. But during 2005, it's likely to move toward becoming a mainstay in low-price PCs, McCarron said.

Intel also introduced a number of new Celeron D chips on Wednesday. The chips, including a new 2.93GHz Celeron D 340, offer Intel's latest LGA775 chip package, a 775-pin socket that connects it to a PC's motherboard. The LGA775 package, first introduced with Intel Pentium 4 chips earlier this year, will become the chipmaker's primary package over time. Most products, including the 910GL and the Celeron D 340, will support or come with Intel's older 478-pin package as well.

Although Intel is working to beef up its low-price PC offerings, it still faces competition from Advanced Micro Devices. The rival chipmaker has also added more low-price processor offerings under its Sempron brand. Hewlett-Packard recently began offering HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario-brand desktops with Sempron processors direct to consumers. A Presario SR1000Z desktop fitted with a Sempron 2800+ chip starts at $323.99 after rebates, $10 less than a Presario SR1010V with a Celeron D 325 chip.


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