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This Article was last modified in May, 1998.

The Pentium II, with it's superior performance and speed, is still lacking in certain areas, in particular, price. Low-cost alternatives from AMD and Cyrix/IBM, such as the K6, and the 6x86MX have taken a significant portion of the microprocessor market over the past few years, and Intel is now really beginning to feel the competition.

To reclaim the lost market segment, Intel is creating new low-cost breeds of the Pentium II, called Celeron processors, specifically aimed at the sub-$1,200 PC market.

Two of these Celeron chips - the Covington and Mendocino, are currently-available low-cost CPUs from Intel. Both of these chips are based on the new 0.25 micron process which Intel currently uses in their new Deschutes Pentium II processors, and are available for a much cheaper cost.

The Covington

The Covington was the first Celron CPU available on market. It is currently available in clock-speeds of 266 and 300 MHz. Like the current Socket 7 CPUs, the Covington has no integrated L2 cache, and unlike current Socket 7 motherboards, there is no L2 cache present on the motherboard either. Because of this, these cache-less Celeron's have very poor business performance.

The Covingtons are currently selling for around $100 (manufacturing costs are actually around $40), which is a LOT less than the current Pentium II CPUs. Most of the cost reductions have been achieved by removing the Level-2 (L2) cache from the CPU.

How exactly does this run-down Pentium II perform? Since the Celeron processor has essentially the same FP unit as the Pentium II, this CPU outperforms the 6x86MX and K6 by far in terms of 3D games, and in many cases, even outperforms the K6-2 in this area. The Covington could be the perfect choice for gamers on a low budget. On the other hand, the lack of L2 cache makes the Celeron a low-end performer in typical business applications, and is outperformed easily by the 6x86MX, K6-2, and even the original K6.

The Mendocino

On August 24th, 1998, along with the Pentium II 450, Intel introduced the new Celeron 300A and 333MHz based on the new Mendocino core. These new Celerons offer a vast performance improvement over the original Celerons, and still maintain a very affordable cost.

The main difference between the new Mendocino Celerons and the original Covington Celerons is the addition of a fully-integrated L2 cache. This L2 cache greatly helps the business performance of the Celeron, and brings the Celerons performance right up to that of the Pentium II in all areas (well, almost anyway).

The Celeron 333 and 300A MHz include 128K of fully integrated L2 cache. The original Celeron processor core for the 300 and 266 MHz parts had 7.5M transistors, the core for the new 333 and 300A parts however, contains 19M transistors due to the addition of the integrated L2 cache 128K.

Although the Mendocino only has a quarter of the cache of the Pentium II, it still offers very competitive performance. This is because the cache on the new Celerons is running at twice the speed it is on the Pentium II (the cache on a Pentium II is run at half the core speed).

According to Intel, the Celeron processor at 333 MHz delivers 41% more integer performance (as measured by SYSmark32), 42% more multimedia performance (as measured by Norton Media Benchmark), and 43% more floating point performance (as measured by FPUmark) than the Celeron processor at 266 MHz.

The Comparison

Covington Mendocino
- 0.25 Micron

- Available in Clock Speeds of 266MHz, 300MHz

- No L2 Cache

- 7.5 Million Transistors

- 0.25 Micron

- Available in Clock Speeds of 300MHz, 333MHz, ...

- 128KB Integrated, Full-Speed L2 Cache

- 19 Million Transistors

The Covington and Mendocino both maintain Slot 1 compatibility. In addition to being able to work with most BX chipset-based motherboards, the Celeron processor will also work with "low-cost" motherboards based on Intel's new EX chipset. The EX chipset is basically a "cheaper" version of the LX chipset, and does not offer a 100MHz front-side bus. Also, the EX chipset only allows for 3 PCI slots.

The Celeron is an excellent overclocker - more so than even the Pentium II. Most people (myself included) have been able to take the 266MHz Covington up to 448MHz with no stability issues whatsoever using a bus speed of 112MHz, and a multiplier of 4 (4x is the only multiplier you can use - all others are locked). Most people prefer the 266MHz Covington over the 300MHz Covington for overclocking. This is because the 300MHz Covington is locked at a 4.5x multiplier - if you want to use a high bus speed like 112MHz, you'd have to take it all the way up to 504MHz, which would be very hard to accomplish.

CPU-Central Scoring

Overclockability 85%
3D Performance 85%
Overall Performance 90%
Upgradability 90%
Compatibility 90%
Price 85%

Overclockability: Like it's brother the Pentium II, the overclockability of the Celeron is very high. Unfortunately, the highest multiplier available on the 266MHz Celeron processor is 4x (and the highest for the 300MHz Celeron is 4.5x, etc.), so the highest possible speed using the 100MHz bus would be 400MHz. Also, another drawback is the fact that some BX boards automatically detect the Celeron processor, and lock the bus speed at 66MHz.

3D Performance: The Celeron offers simply excellent gaming/3D performance - second only to the much more expensive Pentium II.

Overall Performance: Because of the lack of L2 cache, the Covington performs very poorly in typical business applications and other applications that make use of the L2 cache, and is not the best choice of CPU to be used for these types of applications. On the other hand, the fully-integrated L2 cache of the Mendocino completely solves this problem, and make the Celeron a good choice for business applications.

Upgradability: Since Celeron CPUs will fit into BX chipset-based motherboards, it shouldn't be too hard to pull out your Celeron in the future, and drop in a 400 or 500MHz Pentium II CPU.

Compatibility: As in the Pentium MMX and Pentium II, almost all PC games and applications (and hardware) are fine tuned for Pentium CPU's, and owners of these chips should have almost no incompatibility problems (with hardware or software) whatsoever.

Price: The price for this CPU is in the range of other low-cost Pentium alternatives, such as the 6x86MX and K6-2, and offers better performance in terms of gaming than these two CPUs. Business performance is not quite as good as the rest, but is more than adequate for the low price that you pay (and the new Mendocino performs very well is business applications).

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