When PCs using Intels “Grantsdale” chip set launch next week, their ability to serve as a wireless access point wont be made broadly available until as late as the fourth quarter, Intel officials said Thursday.
To enable the wireless access point, the Grantsdale chip set will require an Intel-specific PCI card that wont be available until later this year, Intel officials said. OEMs that want to ship their own Wi-Fi-enabled desktops next week will have to buy their own components, and they wont be able to connect to the Intel chip set.
Intel Corp.s “Grantsdale” and “Alderwood” chip sets–now known as the Intel 915 and Intel 925—will be officially unveiled Monday, along with five new microprocessors sporting a new 775-pin socket. Intel officials met with reporters and analysts in San Francisco and New York on Thursday to provide some details on the new chips in advance of the launch.
Intels 915 and 925 contain three features that set them apart from their predecessors: their use of PCI Express as a bus interface, the 775-pin socket and the inclusion of the Wi-Fi access point technology, which would allow a PC using the chipset to become a wireless gateway for other mobile devices.
But Intel officials said the company hasnt been able to ramp up the Wi-Fi technology in time for the launch. “Were announcing the technology Monday and providing availability later throughout the year,” Intel spokesman Dan Snyder said in a phone interview.
A small supply of Wi-Fi daughter cards will be available at launch, added Howard High, another Intel spokesman.
“If requests are high (we think, in talking with our OEM customers, that demand will build over time rather that be at a high level from day one) then it is likely that demand will outpace supply,” High wrote in an e-mail. “We are ramping production, but dont expect to be in high volume production until later in the year. No technology problems, no manufacturing problems, just classic ramp a new technology into volume situation.”
One analyst suspected that Intel deliberately delayed Grantsdales Wi-Fi capabilities to protect its Wi-Fi-enabled Centrino chip set for mobile PCs. Bob Wheeler, a wireless chip analyst for The Linley Group based in Sebastopol, Calif., said that Intels wireless components are made in a third-party foundry, which accepts contracts from semiconductor manufacturers all over the world.
The Semiconductor Industry Association reported last week that about 93 percent of the available semiconductor manufacturing capacity is currently under contract, while 99 percent of all leading-edge, sub-16-micron capacity is being used. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) has said that its capacity is nearly 100 percent utilized, Wheeler said.
“Wi-Fi isnt nearly as high a priority [for Grantsdale] as it was with the Centrino launch,” Wheeler said.
Intel has kept a close eye on Grantsdales Wi-Fi capabilities since May, when officials said that the company would ship Grantsdale with the wireless features turned off by default in an attempt to prevent the spread of unsecured access points. Grantsdale PCs that can be upgraded to Wi-Fi access point capabilities will ship using the ICH6W I/O hub, one of the components within the chip set.
The chip set itself contains the control circuitry, while the PCI daughter card will house the actual radio component. Snyder did not say whether the daughter card would require an actual PCI slot on the motherboard or would take advantage of some supplemental connector mounted on the board.
OEMs that wish to ship a Wi-Fi-enabled desktop at the Grantsdale launch next week will likely be forced to purchase their own solution—including the control logic and the corresponding radio—such as an aftermarket, USB-based Wi-Fi device, Snyder said.
None of the third-party Wi-Fi radios available on the market can interface to the ICH6W components, he said, meaning that Grantsdale-equipped PCs are essentially locked in to the Intel solution at a chip level. Intels PCI daughter cards will ramp during the third and fourth quarters, he said.
The Linley Groups Wheeler said he believed that the daughter card designed for the Grantsdale/Intel 915 chip set was nothing more than the 802.11b/g PROWireless card found in the Centrino platform. “My understandng is that the wireless LAN chipset is identical,” he said.
At press time, the process of someday upgrading a Grantsdale/Intel 915 PC to take advantage of the Wi-Fi functionality remained somewhat of an open question. When asked how the process would work, Intels High said, “Make sure your OEM knows that you have the intention of upgrading, so you have the right SKU.”
The Grantsdale snafu isnt the first issue Intel has had with Wi-Fi radios. The company shipped third-party radios with its first Centrino mobile platforms. But the Centrino and ICH6W use different control logic, Snyder said, so Intel cant use the Centrino to help it out of the jam.
According to Intel, the Grantsdale and Alderwood chip sets will be used as the foundation for a new generation of entertainment PCs, such as the examples Intel president Paul Otellini showed off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Each of the two chip sets will use PCI Express, a new architecture that will replace the PCI cards used by todays PCs.
Intel also will announce six CPUs on Monday—five new models and the redesign of an existing CPU—to take advantage of the new 775-pin socket. Intel will ship the new 2.8GHz Pentium 4 520, the 3.0GHz Pentium 4 530, the 3.2GHz Pentium 4 540, the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 550 and the 3.6GHz Pentium 4 560.
All five chips will use an 800MHz front-side bus, contain a megabyte of level-2 cache and use the HyperThreading protocols of the current Pentium 4. A sixth chip, the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, will be redesigned for the 775-pin socket.
Some sources agreed with reports predicting that the initial supply of Intels new microprocessors will be constrained, especially for the faster models. But Intels High said volume quantities of the chips will be available at launch, and that it wouldnt be a “paper launch” where shipments show up later in the year.
“Were feeling that a fairly reasonable supply will be coming out the door,” High said, although he acknowledged that there would be a higher number of the slower microprocessors, as they are easier to fabricate.
“Were ready to rock and roll,” High added.
Intel will disclose the prices for the chips over the weekend.
Editors Note: This story was updated on June 17 at 4:00 PM PDT to add comments from The Linley Groups Wheeler. Additional comments from Intels High were added at 6:30 PM.