PC buyers eager to get a Pentium 4 system will have to wait.

Intel has quietly delayed the chip's expected release date to deal with last-minute chipset problems.

The processor manufacturer was widely expected to launch its next-generation processor by the end of October, although the company never announced an official release date.

Now it looks as if the Pentium 4 - and the new PCs that will use it - are being delayed until late November, according to a source at a major direct-PC vendor.

Details about the problem are scarce, but it appears to be an issue with the 850 chipset and not the processor itself, the source says. Intel notified the US-based vendor about the problem yesterday.

The vendor hasn't turned up any problems during its own testing, and the company is pleased with the early performance results of the new processor, the source says.

Intel officials declined to comment on the problem or the expected launch date, noting that the company has repeatedly stated only that it plans to launch the product in the fourth quarter of this year. The chip was previously code-named Willamette.

Intel is counting on the P4 to bolster an image battered by repeated product glitches and delays over the past year. Those problems began, ironically, with the 850 chipset's predecessor, the 820.

Intel was forced to delay that product back in September 1999 after it ran into issues days before the launch.

If the P4 doesn't launch until late November, few vendors will be able to rush out systems in time for the holiday buying season.

The direct PC-seller who reported the delay says its sales model lets it turn out new systems quickly.

But with Xmas fast approaching, it probably won't sell as many P4 systems as it would like, the source says.