Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 164 / MAY 1994 / PAGE 4

Editorial licence. (Pentium-based computers becoming more affordable) (Editorial)
by Clifton Karnes

Clifton Karnes

Pentiums for the people. That was Intel's message this past March when it announced new families of Pentium and 486 chips. Up until now, you've probably thought of the Pentium as a high-speed, high-performance CPU exclusively for workstations, servers, and power users. Until this year, that's been the case, but Intel plans to change all that.

Looking at trends and current statistics, Intel sees the home market as the site for the newest PC boom town, and in the home market poker game, Intel's betting it can put its hottest chips in the millions of PCs consumers are going to buy in 1994 and 1995. Those chips are Pentiums.

So where does the new 486 fit into this plan? Let's talk a little about it first. The new 486 is primarily a clock tripler, called the DX4. The 4 may be a little confusing here, because you'd expect the chip, as a clock tripler, to be called the DX3. Well, as Intel explained to me, the chip does more than just triple the clock speed of a 486. The DX4 has a cache that's twice the size of that of previous 486s, and, on some 486s, the speed increase may be more on the order of just 2 1/2 times.

It's worth noting that this speed we're talking about with the DX4 is the internal speed of the chip only. The external speed is the processor's base speed. So a 100-MHz 486DX4 operates on data inside the chip at 100 MHz, but outside the chip, it moves into the slow lane at 33 MHz. Although this chip will appear in some desktop systems, Intel sees it primarily as a mobile CPU, for notebooks and the like.

The two Pentiums Intel is introducing are a 90-MHz model and a 100-MHz model. Intel sees these chips as the new high end, but there's a big difference between these new screamers and the company's previous highend CPUs. High technology is entering the mainstream faster, and while it took five years for the 386 to get to the $2,000 price point and four years for the 486 to get to that same place, Intel thinks these new Pentiums will reach that point in a year or less.

This means that you'll see 66-MHz Pentium-based machines for $2,000 this Christmas and 90-MHz machines for $3,000. By this time next year, the 90-MHz Pentiums will be clocking in at $2,000.

So there's probably a Pentium in your future. If that's the case, just how good are these new chips? Well, they look very good. The new Pentiums are low-power, 3.3-volt CPUs that come with two internal caches and some parallel processing capability. They're also scalar, which means that you can add multiple Pentiums to a system that's designed for this and dramatically improve performance. According to Intel's data, the new 100-MHz Pentium is nearly three times as fast as a 486 DX2-66, the current chip of choice for most PC users.

If you're running Windows, your performance boost probably won't be quite that high, because Windows won't take advantage of many of the chip's high-end capabilities, but the Pentium's raw 64-bit processing power and speed will definitely move Windows into the passing lane.

In addition, the systems that house these Pentiums are going to be faster than the average 486 today. Most of them will come with Intel's PCI local bus and fast hard disks, which should really speed data along these two bottlenecks.

So if you've never thought about buying a Pentium before, now's the time to start. With a Pentium, you may finally be able to kiss that Windows hourglass goodbye.