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Intel: Processors are not just about Gigahertz

Santa Clara (CA) - Intel will launch with its upcoming Dothan processor a new numbering system. As the company confirmed, the new number won't give a general indication how fast the chip really is. Instead, it will be based on the feature set of the processor.

Intel has to admit that AMD was right again. After following AMD in the track of its 64-bit strategy, Intel now plans to throw away the Gigahertz figure for its processor models and instead use an AMD like model number. Well, sort of.

While AMD's model number is only focused on the real performance on the chip, Intel wants to completely dismiss the performance indication in its numbering system. According to spokesperson George Alfs, there will be three number families: 3xx products will relate to mobile and desktop Celerons, 5xx to Pentium chips and 7xx to the Centrino and Extreme Edition platform.

For example, the upcoming Pentium 4 3.6 GHz will be called the Pentium 4 560. The upcoming Pentium M 1.8 GHz (Dothan) will be named Pentium M 745. The numbers initially will be based on clock speed, cache size and FSB, according to Intel. For the future, the model number also will reflect "future technologies" and features.

Intel intends to move the customer away from a Gigahertz-based purchase decision. Instead, Alfs said, the customer should first decide the purpose of a computer, then choose the platform - 3, 5, or 7 - and then select the appropriate processor.

"Its like buying a car," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst of Insight64. "Many people don't look under the hood when they purchase a car. It's more about the features such as leather interior, a 12-disc CD changer or cup holders."

Compared to AMD's performance oriented numbering system, Intel's approach will not allow a feature or performance comparison across platform families, but only within those specific families. Anybody who wants to know the specs of a processor will have to look to fine print of future processor and computer ads. According to Alfs, retailers will list specifications such as clock speed, cache and FSB below the model number.

Intel's move comes part as a surprise since the company will give up an enormous marketing advantage. Pentium 4 processors display the highest clock speeds in the industry and are widely seen as an indication of performance. Also, the new model number will mean substantial investments to educate the customer on the new system and how to choose the right processor. So, why would Intel change its strategy when the company has a comfortable lead?

Brookwood thinks that Intel's Centrino platform might have influenced the decision. The processor's Gigahertz rate is much lower than other Intel processors. "Intel plans to move Centrino into the consumer space this year. While it was fairly easy to explain the Gigahertz gap to businesses, Intel might have some trouble explaining less Gigahertz in the consumer space." A new model number, which does not allow comparison to other processor families, certainly will make it easier for Intel to effectively position Centrino for private users.

As it was the case with AMD's model number, Intel's new numbering system will not make it easier for users to find the PC they are looking for. "You will have to do more homework and read computer magazines for the details," said Brookwood. Which brings the purchase of a computer closer to buying a car and you might end up with a processor that feels just like a Bavarian luxury car.