Say "No" to Celeron
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, June 1998
Up until now, CPU super-giant Intel has had a fairly
six months or so, release a significantly faster version of their core
CPU technology. At the same time, drop the price of previous versions
the CPU. Every couple of years, release a new generation CPU.
As a result, new CPU models were aimed at the
high-end, with prices
to match. Older versions would appear in progressively less expensive
serving broader markets.
But last winter?s explosion of low-cost computers
caught Intel by surprise,
along with much of the industry. To a large extent, these models,
for as much as 40% of the consumer market, were powered by
CPUs, designed from scratch for low-end machines by Intel?s competitors
such as AMD?s K6 processor. Despite a TV ad-campaign pushing the ?Intel
Inside? logo, customers were happy to use something else inside if the
price was right.
The result is a strategy switch by Intel. Instead of a
single CPU line,
aiming to cover the entire breadth of the market, Intel is now offering
different processors for different market niches?a processor line for
business models, one for high-end servers, and another for low-cost,
On April 15th, Intel unveiled the first Celeron
processors, its new
model aiming for the low-cost mass-market. It?s a 266 MHz model, based
on Intel?s Pentium-II, and like that processor, designed in a cartridge
to fit into Intel?s proprietary Slot-1.
When Intel moved from the Pentium?s Socket-7 design to
the P-II?s cartridge
design, the idea was that this allowed a high speed connection
the CPU and Level-2 cache ram, necessary for good performance. (The
Pentium-Pro included a large cache right on the CPU, but this design
expensive to manufacture. The P-II?s cartridge offered somewhat lower
for its cache than the Pro, but promised lower cost. And the Slot-1
is owned by Intel; competitors? CPUs need not apply).
While Celeron is presumably named after celerity, an
for speed, the design keeps the Slot-1 design, but drops the cache RAM.
The result is a processor that compared badly to
low-cost models from
Intel?s competitors, and even to the slower Pentium MMX models from
that it is meant to replace. PC Magazine, for example, benchmarked a
system from Compaq, and found that it ran slower than a typical MMX-233
(with 512 kb of L2 cache), and in fact, barely outperformed an MMX-166.
And while Intel had earlier claimed that Celeron models would benefit
their P-II heritage with improved multimedia performance, the system
offered poor 3D performance. Forget about selling these systems to the
game-playing segment of the home market!
Moreover, while they share Slot-1 designs, the
motherboards on many
Celeron systems will not be able to handle standard Pentium-II
making them non-upgradeable. By using Slot-1, however, these systems
forced to use motherboard chipsets (in this case, the new 440EX) from
In order to keep the price low, the 440EX is limited
in other ways.
No multi-processor support, and only two slots for DIMM memory
a maximum of 256 megs of RAM. Support for a maximum of three PCI slots
limits system expandability (by comparison, the common 440LX design for
Pentium IIs supports double the RAM and five PCI slots).
While Celeron, with wholesale pricing at $155(USD), is
at the low-end consumer market, users will be better served with models
based on AMD?s K6 (with new models expected to reach 300 and 350 MHz
year), Cyrix?s MediaGX (moving up to 266 MHz and beyond and
integrated multimedia), or the new Centaur processor from Integrated
Technologies. All three are based on the older Socket-7 technology used
by Intel in its Pentium and MMX models. Currently, Intel?s competitors
account for about 15% of the market, which is expected to rise to at
20% this year as the trio work out problems that limited production in
Many of the big-name computer manufacturers have announced
systems, but some, such as Compaq, are also offering MediaGX or
systems. IBM is ignoring Celeron entirely, using the K6 in its low-end
offerings. (IBM is manufacturing K6s for AMD). Intel fans, instead, are
looking forward to the next generation of Celeron, code-named Mendocino
and due in late 1998, expected to put a cache back onto the cartridge,
as a way to offer reasonably-respectable performance.
The best response to Celeron (at least for now) is to
just say ?No!?.
Nevertheless, at the same April 15th product launch, Intel debuted
product line worth following up on.
P-II models running at 350 MHz and 400 MHz were
unveiled, at prices
of US$609 and $800 respectively. A 450 MHz model is expected in July.
CPU speeds represent an increase over the previous 333 MHz models, but
more significant is the motherboard chipset that they?ll run on. The
chipset runs at 100 MHz, a significant increase over the 66 MHz used in
existing models. Of course, the Intel-competitors are expected to
with their own 100 MHz designs, later this year, and the betting is
their Pentium-like models will see even more performance improvement
the faster bus than Intel?s P-II designs.
These 100 MHz bus designs not only allow the CPU to
run faster, but
they speeds up operations across the system. This won?t be the end, of
course. At last March?s WinHEC conference, keynote speaker Michael
predicted 200 MHz system busses by 1999, running processors at speeds
to 750 MHz. According to Slater, even the new, faster 100 MHz bus will
have a hard time keeping up with upcoming RAM designs, such as Rambus
While you can safely pass up on Celeron, migrate other
systems to 100
MHz designs as soon as possible.