Analysis: 1GHz, great if you can get 'em

Don't believe the 1GHz hype, warn analysts

Newly crowned champion of the 1GHz microprocessor race, Advance Micro Devices (AMD), sent its PR machine into overdrive on Monday, describing the launch of its new super-chip in the same hushed tones spoken at the breaking of the sound barrier and when man first stepped on the moon.

Clearly pleased with itself, the company, which is led by 62-year-old maverick Jerry Sanders, knows that winning the 1GHz race is a painful blow to arch adversary Intel.

So what's the catch with all this rushing around trying to outdo one another? Hopefully, there won't be one, but according to some industry experts, both manufacturers may have underestimated the difficulty of meeting demand, leaving consumers caught in the virtual hype and very frustrated.

Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with US analyst group, PC processors, said it's not hard to figure out that the gigahertz race between AMD and Intel is little more than a PR battle, but added that this is a particularly important one. "It certainly is one of those sought after milestones within the chip design industry. Some people see it like breaking the sound barrier. It will certainly have PR value," he said. But while it looks good, Krewell wants to see proof. "We've had more and more of these phantom launches," he said. "In many ways, it's a teaser. They're saying: 'We've got something, but you're probably not going to be able to go out and get it.'"

And, it seems, Krewell's concerns are not without reason. Heavyweight manufacturers such as Dell have been left sour over Intel's failure to meet supply demands, and one British PC manufacturer that requested anonymity has complained of being promised 1GHz sample Athlons that have yet to be delivered.

Gateway is currently offering 1GHz machines from its Web site and Compaq is expected to follow suit soon. However, AMD has said that all this month's 1GHz chips will go to these two manufacturers exclusively.

So in a nutshell, the desperate dash for 1GHz could actually force consumers to wait for machines based on the new technology. "I think it'll probably be at least a few months before a large number of people can go out and actually find them on the shelves," remarked Keith Diefendorff, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report. "Lots of them will come out with a new speed grade, but the problem will be in finding the actual boxes."

Diefendorff reckons both AMD and Intel could face supply problems with their 1GHz products. Diefendorff says that when a manufacturer tries to push its production process to produce more complicated processors, yield inevitably decreases. "If AMD is too aggressive," he warns, "they could run into problems."

But despite the warnings from the analyst community, AMD and Intel continue to slug it out, much to the delight of both readers and consumers worldwide.

AMD European product manager, Richard Baker, says he's all too familiar with Intel's habit of announcing products well before they're ready. "That's what they've done for the past three speed grades," he said. An Intel spokesperson fired back, "We've shown three production-ready models at CeBIT and have five fabs producing 0.18-micron technology."

And so it goes on...

For full coverage, see 1GHz: The whole story.

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