SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A controversial new computer chip that can send the serial number of an individual computer through the World Wide Web is being used by developers to offer realistic 3-D games, speech recognition and other advanced features.
More than 200 companies gathered in San Jose Wednesday to preview software and other products designed for Intel Corp.'s Pentium III microprocessor, available in personal computers at the end of the month.
The event was part of a $300 million marketing campaign for the Pentium III, which will supply the brainpower for personal computers initially costing about $2,000. The Santa Clara, Calif. chip giant is touting the chip's features to persuade consumers to buy pricier machines instead of sub-$1,000 PCs, which make Intel far less money.
The Pentium III also will help Intel compete against Advanced Micro Devices Inc., a smaller underdog that lately has been making inroads into Intel's turf by selling chips to makers of the less expensive computers.
"This isn't really a push to promote a processor. It's more a push to arrest the slide down the slippery slope toward less expensive personal computers," said Van Baker, director of market research at Dataquest, a San Jose, Calif. high-tech research firm.
Intel leaked samples of the chips, using a code name "Katmai," to several hundred software and hardware developers about a year ago so they could invent games and business programs that depend on the Pentium III.
After trying the array of computer products out for about an hour, industry analyst Nathan Brookwood said he was neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed.
"I'm whelmed," he said. "With this chip, everything is nice and smooth and glitzy," said Brookwood, who runs Insight 64, a Saratoga, Calif.-based consulting firm. "The hardware guys give us more computer power. The software guys come along and find ways to soak it up."
Programs developed with the Pentium III don't do anything entirely new.
But in the past, 3-D images appeared jumpy and stilted on computers. Downloading complex programs through the Internet was slow. And speech recognition programs took hours to "train" before responding to a computer user's voice.
But images, video and sound can be downloaded off the Internet onto a Pentium III computer in seconds. Three-dimensional pictures appear vivid and clear -- users can virtually explore outer space or a local neighborhood with dynamic, realistic effects, or make animated videos, programming digital puppets to move and speak.
Speech recognition programs are much simpler to use, allowing users to create, edit and format documents without using a keyboard.
"With this chip, fighter jets in our games fly like they really do in the air, they maneuver in 3-D enabling us to enhance our customer's experience," said Kristen McEntire, a publicist for Electronic Arts, a maker of computer games.
Intel managers and product designers at the event tried to downplay concerns raised by computer privacy advocates about the new processor serial number, or PSN. This feature allows the Pentium III chip to transmit a unique serial number to Web sites that request it to help verify a user's identity.
Privacy advocates fear this feature will allow Internet companies to gather private information from computer users about what they've been looking at.
But Intel officials said those serial numbers will be transmitted only with a user's permission, and that they're urging computer makers to turn the option off when they ship the computers to consumers.
In addition, developers noted that some Internet businesses will be giving computer users the option of sending scrambled code. For example, somebody using an Internet banking site may send an encrypted version of their serial number in order to access their account. That computer user who goes on to buy a book through the Internet could send a differently scrambled version of their serial number to the online book store.
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