THE world's dominant microchip manufacturer, Intel, today lifts the veil off its new-generation processor - known as Pentium - which the company claims is up to five times as powerful as its current flagship 486DX. The long-awaited Pentium, which is about a year behind its original delivery schedule, will provide the micro-processor ''brains'' to power the next generation of personal computers (PCs). Intel Asia-Pacific vice-president and general manager, Mr David Shrigley, said Pentium provided the performance platform for new application areas such as voice recognition, imaging and real-time video. Increased processing power would also make computers easier to use by improving graphical user interfaces, as well as hand-writing recognition and voice input systems, Mr Shrigley said. But do not expect Pentium-based machines to start to appear on retailers' shelves immediately. The first system-level products will begin to emerge some time in May. Though technical details of the chip were announced yesterday, Intel said it would deliver only limited volumes of the processor this year. It said it would deliver about 10,000 by mid-year, and several hundred thousand by year's end, compared with the tens of millions of the older 486 processor series it expects to ship. Pricing of the product will not be announced until May. Mr Shrigley said the first PC systems based on Pentium would be priced between US$7,000 and $9,000. Intel also announced yesterday that it would launch the OverDrive series processors next year. The series will let users upgrade their 486DX2-based computers to Pentium level performance. ''This is important in that Pentium is going to ship in the hundreds of thousands this year, whereas the 486 technology is going to ship in the millions,'' Mr Shrigley said. ''The OverDrive capability provides upgrade protection for 486 customers,'' he said. In addition, Intel announced yesterday a series of software compliers which it said would help software developers get products that take advantage of Pentium's improved performance to market much sooner. Traditionally, there has been a long lag between the launch of new processors, and the launch of new software designed for the new platform. The company expects the first off-the-shelf software products to become available within months of the launch. Pentium comes in 60-megaHertz (MHz) and 66-MHz versions, operating at up to 112 millions of instructions per second (MIPS). The company will launch 100-MHz versions of the product next year. Typical early users will use the improved processing power for applications such as scientific modelling, computer-aided design and engineering, and large-scale financial analysis. ''We expect that the initial customers for the Pentium processor-based systems will be those traditional early users who require increased performance to meet their needs,'' Mr Shrigley said. ''Additionally, these systems will surface in high-performance servers for corporate downsizing applications,'' he said. As volume increased over the next year, Pentium processor-based systems would gravitate towards more traditional desktop applications, Mr Shrigley said.