Computer owners brag about having the most powerful chips in their machines, maybe car owners will soon, too.

In early December Intel Corp. announces a new high-performance, highly integrated microchip specifically for automobiles. The new chip, a version of Intel's MCS 96 16-bit microcontroller family, is designed for engine- and transmission-control systems that monitor and continually adjust engine performance.

For example, Intel officials say the engine-control system can adjust performance parameters to account for aging spark plugs.

In the case of more critical problems, it also can alert the driver to check the engine. During service, a technician can quickly download data from the system, eliminating trial-and error diagnosis and bring-it-back-when-it-makes-that-noise-again syndrome.

Computer industry analysts predict worldwide demand for sensors in autos will increase from 412 million in 1993 to 966 million in 2002. Total microcontroller demand is expected to increase from 131 million units in 1993 to 362 million units in 2002.

The new chip goes into production in March, Intel says.