Intel Celeron 300A

by Anand Lal Shimpi on August 31, 1998 3:36 PM EST
We all make spontaneous decisions in our lives at one point or another.  You may choose to take a different road to work in the morning, you may opt for a different kind of dinner when you get home, or you might go out on the limb and have an after dinner snack.  While that is a very bland illustration of spontaneous decisions, for the most part, the spontaneous decisions that face us daily aren't as dramatic as the one you are about to hear about.  Intel Celeron 300A

Intel in Denial?

Building on the success of their Pentium II Celeron line of processors, Intel felt the need to up the ante once again with their fierce competitor AMD, while also managing to raise the entry level performance mark by a considerable amount.  Realizing that the entire weakness of the original Celeron processor was the lack of cache, not in actual performance situations, but on paper, the lack of cache caused many magazine editors and online publications to horribly trash the product as it couldn't stay competitive on a level of overall performance.  This opened up the market to AMD's highly successful K6-2 processor as well as Cyrix's M-II for those that weren't too concerned with 3D gaming performance.  This is where Intel refused to accept their mistake...until now.

Accepting and Moving on

The market wants cache?  Give them cache.   As you all probably remember from the original Celeron article on AnandTech, there are two types of high speed memory found on most x86 PC's that will dramatically increase performance when used efficiently.  These two types are, of course, Level 1 and Level 2 cache.  Cache acts as a middle man between your processor and your main memory subsystem, instead of wasting time going directly to the memory for a data request, your CPU can request data directly from its Level 1 (L1) cache which is located on the processor itself or from the system's Level 2 (L2) cache which can be located anywhere from the processor itself to the motherboard depending on your CPU.  By leaving the system memory out of the equation, many repeated tasks (many of which are found in business applications, such as Office applications, and even your OS alone) are sped up considerably.

With the Pentium II, in order to increase performance, Intel decided to move the L2 cache off of the motherboard, as they had done in previous designs, and on to a card which is physically much closer to the CPU.  By allowing the L2 cache to operate at 1/2 the clock speed, Intel managed to dramatically increase overall system performance by simply migrating that cache on to the processor card.  The L2 cache on most motherboards prior to the release of the Pentium II operated at around 66 - 83MHz depending on your setup, whereas most Pentium II desktops have L2 cache operating at frequencies greater than 117MHz, and in most cases well above 150MHz (depending on your processor). 

Unfortunately the Pentium II was too overpriced to be a viable solution for the low end market, so Intel simply removed the L2 cache from the processor card and sold the newly "strip-teased" chips at an incredibly degraded costs.  Calling these new chips the Pentium II Celeron family of Intel processors, Intel was able to create a name you didn't want your computer to be associated with, simply because the general consensus of the hardware enthusiast population was that cache was necessary for a truly high end system.  While this may hold true in some cases, you must keep in mind that for a high end gaming system, L2 cache isn't all that necessary.  Overclockers managed to quickly discover that the Celeron was an extremely overclockable chip, with the later 266 and 300MHz parts being able to make it up to 400 and 450MHz respectively with a bit of a cooling.  Even in spite of this new discovery however, the Celeron was still a failure in the eye of the general public as it lacked that "oh so necessary" L2 cache that many simply can't live without.

Accepting their flaw, the engineers at Intel went back to work almost spontaneously on a new chip they hadn't announced until just recently, based on a Pentium II core unlike the original Klamath and Deschutes, Intel had something killer in mind.  Code-named the "Mendocino" core, this new processor was designed to feature the same specifications as your standard, run of the mill, Celeron CPU, with an unexpected twist, it would feature L2 cache.  However, instead of simply adding the cache onto the cartridge itself to make this new processor another Pentium II look-alike, Intel chose to decrease the amount of L2 cache they would place on the cartridge as well as change the placement of that cache.

By decreasing the amount of L2 cache from 512KB on the Pentium II, to 128KB and placing it on the processor's die itself (meaning that the L2 cache is an actual part of the processor, and not part of a separate package as it was with the Pentium Pro and as it is with the Pentium II Xeon) Intel could produce a low-cost yet high performance solution which would carry on the Celeron name for quite some time.  What did Intel call this new processor?  The Pentium II Celeron 300A.

Chomp on this Celery Stick
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  • Hulk - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    I remember this review fondly. This was the review that prompted me to build my first computer. My 300a went to 450 just like almost every one.
  • dananski - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link

    This was sort of before my time (the day after my 11th birthday) but I wish I had known these things in such detail when I first came to buying and building computers. And I do miss Anand's excellent writing now he has left.
  • Kepe - Sunday, March 1, 2015 - link

    Hehe, the WR overclock for this processor was broken yesterday: 721 MHz. Amazing! :D
  • StrangerGuy - Monday, April 1, 2019 - link

    I wasn't into PCs in 1998/99, but looking back there were countless people I know who got ripped off by buying the somewhat-to-insanely overpriced P2/P3s, or the cheap-but-slow K6 variants after the incredible Celly 300A hit the streets. I guess the Internet wasn't that mainstream then, let alone PC review websites like AT.

    It's funny now people spend big bucks elking out a mere 10% OC out of their i7/i9s, while 20 years ago overclocking the 300A by 50% on a 440BX is free in the truest sense of the word.
  • PandaBear - Monday, July 6, 2020 - link

    Back then people expect performance doubling about every 18-24 months. These days you get 10% improvement every 18-24 months because of monopoly.

    Also other than GPU, SSD, and maybe up to 16GB of DDR4, there really isn't anything worth upgrading anymore.
  • bunnyfubbles - Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - link

    these days we get 10% not because of monopoly (you could have made that argument after Sandy Bridge launch, but not now with AMD producing viable competition thanks to Zen) but because we're running into the physical limits of silicon. Hell, we knew even as far back as ~2006 that clock rate ramping would be unsustainable.

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