Intel will roll out its 3GHz Pentium 4 microprocessor in the fall, the company says, ahead of its previous fourth quarter 2002 schedule. The timing will allow PC makers to ship PCs based on the new chip in time for the holiday season and will further extend Intel's performance lead over the competition. Additionally, Intel says that it will be able to release an interim speed bump--its 2.8GHz Pentium 4 version--within in the next few months. Today's fastest Pentium 4 runs at 2.53GHz.

Intel's suddenly accelerated release schedule is sure to vex companies such as AMD, Motorola, and IBM, which make competing 32-bit processor designs. AMD's Athlon, for example, is currently mired below 2GHz and faces a slower upgrade cycle than the Pentium 4 does. Motorola and IBM, which make the PowerPC chips underlying the Apple Macintosh, are even further behind. The fastest Macintosh systems today use 1GHz processors, and despite Apple's "Megahertz Myth" marketing campaigns, real-world benchmarks reveal just how far behind Intel-based PCs the Apple systems are. Further distancing Intel from the competition, of course, is its research and development budget: Intel spends a whopping $4 billion a year on R&D.

For customers who don't want to wait for year-end to purchase new PCs, Intel recently cut prices dramatically for its existing chips. The company lowered the 2.53GHz Pentium 4's price 63 percent and cut the price of its most popular model, which runs at 1.8GHz, 13 percent. Intel's chips are now 25 to 30 percent cheaper, on average, than they were just a week ago. No doubt inspired by news of the company's accelerated delivery schedule, the price cuts give consumers incentive to buy now rather than wait for faster products.