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Intel formally launched its next-generation “Prescott” microprocessor on Sunday, providing slight performance increases over the previous Pentium 4. Intel executives also declined to put to rest rumors of Prescott’s 64-bit capabilities.

The Prescott will ship in 3.2-, 3.0-, and 2.8-GHz speed grades beginning on Monday, with supplies of the 3.4-GHz low enough that many system OEMs will begin shipping systems later in the quarter. Intel also announced a new 3.4-GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition as well as a 3.4-GHz Pentium 4 based on the older Northwood technology. PCs using the new chips will be sold Monday by major PC vendors, such as Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and others.

Intel will not officially charge a premium for the new chips, although dealers reported that they would charge slight premiums for Intel’s new processor.

Prescott differs from the current “Northwood” Pentium 4 in that it doubles the size of the chip’s level-2 cache from 512 Kbytes to a full megabyte, adds thirteen new instructions, and is Intel’s first chip to be produced on Intel’s latest 90-nm manufacturing equipment. The additional cache will provide marginal improvements in application performance. However, the real boost will come in the overhead Intel engineers now have to boost processor speeds over time. Intel executives have said they expect to ship a 4-GHz Pentium 4 Prescott by the end of the year.

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