Intel launches its 566- and 600-MHz Celeron processors today, but don't expect to buy a budget PC with either chip soon. Despite the chips' improvements in speed and design, no major PC vendors have immediate plans to ship home PCs that use them. Compaq, Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard are usually among the first with systems in concert with an Intel launch. Not so this time. HP won't roll out a Pavilion PC with the 566MHz Celeron until April, says Ray Aldrich, spokesperson. Executives from Compaq, Dell, and Gateway say they have no dates when they'll offer home PCs with either CPU. Aldrich says there's nothing odd about HP's delayed support for these Celerons. HP's product road map simply has a short delay between Intel's announcement and the launch of a 566MHz Celeron-based Pavilion, he says. HP doesn't plan to use a Celeron-600 in a PC, but that could change. Dell opted not to use either chip in a Dimension system right now for lack of customer demand, says spokesperson Maria Krinsky. Dell's entry-level Dimension desktops run Celeron-466 and Pentium III-550 chips. The processor situation is already too complex, and adding two Celerons to the mix just confuses matters more, she says. But Dell may reconsider. Intel is shipping the new chips in volume and expects major vendors to offer systems soon, says Seth Walker, spokesperson. The new chips are superior to earlier Celerons, which are based on the 0.25-micron process and top out at 533MHz. The new CPUs are more like Intel's high-end PIIIs, says Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst with Microprocessor Report. These Celerons also come from Intel's 0.18 micron manufacturing process, which produces a smaller, more efficient chip. They actually come from the same die as PIIIs, Krewell says. However, Intel disables half the 256K byte on-die L2 cache, leaving it with 128K byte for Celerons. The new chips also support Intel's Internet Streaming SIMD extensions, new x86 instructions that improve multimedia application performance, Krewell notes. The 566- and 600MHz Celerons should perform noticeably better than other Celerons do, but he says they won't compare to PIIIs running at similar speeds. Last year, some fast Celerons matched some PIIs, making them a great value, he says. Now Intel is more carefully keeping clear-cut performance distinctions between the two brands. The smaller L2 cache slows the Celerons, which will lag behind the PIII as long as the budget chip uses a 66-MHz frontside bus and integrated graphics, he says. PIIIs use a 100- or 133MHz bus, and ship with superior chip set and graphics support. AMD takes action Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon continues to challenge PIIIs at the high end, and AMD is preparing a value-priced processor to compete with the new Celerons, Krewell says. Intel's newest CPUs should outperform AMD's current top value chip, the 550MHz K6-2 released in February. But by mid-year AMD will launch a low-priced version of the Athlon, code-named Spitfire, Krewell says. The chip will have a performance-boosting on-die L2 cache that should help it compete with the new Celerons, he says. Of course, Intel isn't standing still, either. Executives say we'll see more new Celeron CPUs before June.