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Intel Pentium II & Celeron

The Pentium II processor: Image courtesy of Intel Corporation

The Pentium II has finally lost its crown as the fastest of all the "x86" processors in a week which saw it drop to number 3 from its coveted first place. The Pentium III and AMD K6 III have now arrived onto the scene and have stolen the Pentium II's limelight. So what now can we expect from one of Intel's most sucessful processor lines, which remained virtually unchallenged at the top thoughout its 18 month reign? What future is there for the Pentium II in the hostile processor marketplace? What can the buyer expect from the chip that was only so recently king of a very competative hill?

The Pentium II in profile

The Pentium II at its launch in May 1997 was in fact the second iteration of Intel's P6 microarchtechture, the honour of being first falling to the Pentium Pro. The launch of the Pentium II came at a time crucial to Intel as it's P5 microarchitechture (Pentium MMX) was rapidly becoming dated and being outclassed by newer and cheaper processors such as the AMD K6. To deal with this threat Intel had to move the PC world away from Socket 7 and onto a new platform in order to establish a clear lead over its fast catching up rivals. Enter the Pentium II.

The Pentium II saw a move away from the old socketed architechture as implemented in the Pentium and Pentium Pro to a new Slot based one named imaginitively "Slot 1". This architechture was proprietary technology of Intel and thus allowed them to pursue their own chip development free from the attentions of AMD & Cyrix. Originally available in speeds of 233 & 266 MHz the Pentium II ran in motherboards based upon the old Pentium Pro chipset, the i440FX (Natoma).

The i440FX chipset boards were only a stopgap for Intel until the first chipset designed for the PII, the i440LX became available. On sale from autumn 1997 this brought benefits of SDRAM and AGP to the Pentium II. It also allowed speeds in excess of 266 MHz to be attained coupled to the release of the 300 MHz variant of the chip in October 1997. This chip was followed by a 333 MHz variant in January 1998. The Pentium II 300 marked the end of the original "Klammath" version of the Pentium II, which was manufactured using 0.35 micron technology.

From the PII 333, all chips were manufactured using the 0.25 micron process and were codenamed "Deschutes". The 350 & 400 MHz versions saw the introduction of the 100 MHz front side bus facilitated by the release of the i440BX chipset in April 1998. This brought new levels of performance to the Pentium II. The last iteration of the Pentium II was released in August 1998 runnig at 450 MHz.

The Pentium II like the Pentium Pro runs it level 2 cache memory alongside the processor away from the motherboard. This allows the Pentium II to run its compliment of 512 Kb of cache at half of its clock speed. This offers the processor a significant advantage over others running their cache at system bus speed. This feature alone allowed the PII to gain a speed advantage overs its rivals and predecessors.

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