Intel has big plans for next year.

The forthcoming Pentium 4 desktop processor is expected to hit the 2GHz mark by the third quarter and the company is ready to take advantage of growing opportunities in the burgeoning mobile phone market, senior executives announced last week.

The Pentium 4, which is based on Intel's first new chip architecture in five years, is expected to debut in a few weeks at a clock speed of at least 1.4GHz, said Paul Otellini, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group.

While the new chip will debut only in more costly, high-performance PCs, Otellini said he expects the Pentium 4 to reach all segments of the mainstream PC market by the end of next year.

That means users should be able to get their hands on a Pentium 4 system for as little as £1200 before the end of 2001.

Regarding the widely watched issue of memory support for the new processor, Intel will offer only one chip set with the Pentium 4 for the bulk of the next year, and as expected that chip set will support RDRAM, the high-speed memory interface technology designed by Rambus, Otellini said.

In late 2001, with the availability of higher volumes of the Pentium 4 into lower price segments, Intel will introduce a new chip set that supports the widely used SDRAM as well as the emerging double data rate SDRAM as that technology becomes mainstream, Otellini said.

Compared with the fastest Pentium III, which runs at 1 GHz today, the Pentium 4 will offer a performance boost of up to 25 percent in MP3 audio encoding, 50 percent in video encoding, and 44 percent in video games like Quake III, Otellini said.

The Pentium III will be around in desktop systems for some time yet, however. Otellini said the "crossover point" when the company sells more Pentium 4s than Pentium IIIs isn't likely to happen until early 2002, a schedule Intel will work hard to accelerate.

The company also sees big growth opportunities in the mobile phone market and plans to develop a "single-chip solution" that will combine digital signal processor, CPU, and flash memory functions on a single chip, CEO Craig Barrett said.

Such highly integrated devices should help manufacturers build smaller, less expensive phones.

"The cell phone is turning into a much more general computer product," Barrett said. "More and more you'll see Intel on the inside of those products as well as being on the inside of the PC."

In the notebook PC segment, Intel expects to crank its mobile Pentium III processor to 1.2GHz next year, while reducing the average power consumption of its mobile chips to half a watt to improve battery life.

The chipmaker expects that notebook sales will continue to grow faster than desktop sales, to account for a quarter of all PC units sold by 2005, Otellini said.