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All chip-shape!

New chips, launched recently, promise a heightened computing experience by fooling the PC into working twice as fast.

RECENTLY, INTEL launched three new chips in the Pentium 4 processor range. They churn the numbers at 2.4, 2.6 and 2.8 GHz respectively ( a gigahertz switches a billion times a second).

And to compliment them, the chipmaker has unveiled a trio of new chipsets in the 865 series. A combination of chip and chipset from this package promises to give the average home PC owner, the type of "cool" technology that was hitherto available only for well- heeled executives and top professionals, working in graphics and gaming.

How does Intel claim to do this? The technology it is touting is called `hyper threading'. In simple terms, this means breaking up a complex job into multiple threads for easier digestion. With hyper threading, the chip can essentially `fool' the application into thinking it is working with two processors instead of one.

But, hyper threading alone is not enough to make significant difference in the computing experience. It needs to go hand-in-hand with a faster chipset.

The 865 G and 865 PE chipsets are said to do precisely this. An interesting analogy goes like this : Iif the processor chip is the CEO of the company, then the chipsets are the Chief Operating Officers (COOs), making sure that the memory works smoothly with the processor and clearing the path for data to move around faster. Some industry observers are saying, the new Intel chips for the consumer desktop constitute the biggest techno-jump for PCs in recent years.

Currently, Intel's `Celeron' range which makes up their `janatha' chips, does not provide the hyper thread advantage - but on past experience, this may only be a matter of time.

Only days ago, HCL became the first Indian PC maker to announce new `Infiniti' models based on the 865G chipset and a selection of the new hyper threaded chips. HCL says home users can now play music in the background while running graphics-heavy games or they can play games while recording TV programs, without the PC 'hanging'. Meanwhile, Acer and Dell are two other global companies who have unveiled PCs, beefed up with the new devices.

But remember, this is a game you can never win - because there is always better technology around the corner. AMD, the guys who have been making chips which do what Intel does (only cheaper), have promised that by September this year, their `Athlon' chips for the desktop are going to a launch a whole new ballgame by going from 32 bit processing to 64 bits. Professional PCs already use 64 bit chips like Intel's `Itanium' or AMD's `Opteron'. But these are pricey options. Then, why would AMD think that we would like to go the 64 bit way for our humbler applications. "Wait and see", they are saying, "A 64 bit Athlon in your home PC is like a supercharger under the hood of your car. Under normal traffic conditions you won't know its there - but if you really need to zoom ahead, it will take you where no one has gone before."

A.VISHNU

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