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Intel Corporation promised that 90nm ramp will be the fastest in the company’s history, but now it looks like the firm was overoptimistic, as two of its largest customers are switching back to 130nm desktop processors in an attempt to sustain volumes of their shipments.

A report over claims that Dell and HP stopped to offer Pentium 4 E processors made using 90nm process technology as well as Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chips at 3.40GHz recently. The companies’ representatives are reported to have blamed insufficient supplies of such chips and consequential inability to serve their customers in timely manner. As a solution, both firms switched to 3.40GHz Pentium 4 processors based on Northwood core that is manufactured using 130nm technology.

The Intel Pentium 4 E processors launched in early February 2004 have a lot of architectural tweaks and improvements, such as 16KB L1 data cache, 1MB L2 cache as well as improved branch predictor, faster instruction execution a better data pre-fetcher as well as 13 new instructions called SSE3. The main drawback of the Prescott seems to be extremely deep pipeline which sometimes impacts its performance negatively. In overall, chips formerly code-named Prescott offer performance similar to their predecessors, but in some cases the new chips showcase themselves very negatively. You can find more information on the new Pentium 4 “E” architecture in our article called “Intel Prescott: One More Willamette-like Slow Processor or a Worthy Piece?”, and get more details about the performance of Intel’s first commercial 90nm desktop chips in our “Massive Attack: Performance Tests of 14 Processors Priced at $200+” review.

According to Intel’s president Paul Otellini, the Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker expected to ship around 70 million of its new Prescott microprocessors made using 90nm fabrication process in 2004. The ramp was originally expected to be very rapid and shipments of CPUs with Prescott cores inside were projected to account for 60% of all Pentium shipments as well as 40% of all Celeron shipments this year, the firm expressed its hopes during a meeting with analysts in November 2003.

Insufficient supplies may either indicate unbelievable demand or problems with manufacturing the processors in sufficient quantities. Keeping in mind that in the past Intel confirmed issues with 90nm process technology, it is logical to look in this direction when thinking about the reason for insufficient supply. Even though Extreme Edition processors are made with 130nm process technology, the core of those products – Gallatin – was originally intended for MP servers, where 3.40GHz clock-speed is not required and is not available, which imply possible difficulties with production of such chips.

It is not the first time Intel has chip shortages. In the most recent history the company could not supply 0.18 micron Pentium III speed-bins in 1999 and certain Pentium 4 processors in 2001. Such situation usually opens the doors to arch-rival AMD, who now have a strong advantage in the performance-mainstream and high-end market segments with its 64-bit processors that are faster compared to Intel’s Pentium 4 in loads of 32-bit benchmarks.

Standing in front of the problems with delivering enough high-end processors, Intel is likely to badly need something to offer its clients in order not to lose the lucrative segment of high-end PCs. Unfortunately for the company, the trump of its Pentium 4 processors – ability to operate at high core-clocks – is facing the physics-related issues. AMD, who decided to rely on architecture, not just pure frequency, with its AMD64 processors is not reported to have problems with delivering sufficient numbers of its highest-end processors.


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