Exclusive: AMD set for three-chip rollout

Summary:900MHz, 950MHz and 1GHz chips are set to hit the streets soon, making for possible PR win over Intel

AMD is set to deliver a "one-two-three" punch to Intel "imminently" with the simultaneous release of its 900MHz, 950MHz and 1GHz Athlon processors, ZDNet UK has learned.

According to sources, AMD will toss out the usual procedure of releasing one clock speed at a time in a move designed to humiliate its gargantuan rival Intel in an ongoing PR war. If AMD pulls the move off, and the source warns that "this is the goal, but these things can change in a minute", it will also make AMD's 850MHz Athlon -- currently the fastest processor available in full production volumes -- only the fourth-fastest on the chip maker's roster. Its 850MHz chip was introduced on 11 February.

Fierce competition in the consumer arena between Intel and AMD has meant faster and faster product releases, with both companies seemingly endlessly revising their roadmaps. AMD, for example, has been releasing a new Athlon speed at a rate of about one a month since the 700MHz version appeared on 4 October 1999. Earlier this week, AMD moved to undercut Intel on pricing by slashing its 800MHz chip by 29 percent, after a similar move by Intel.

The 1GHz Athlon wasn't originally due until the second quarter, but its simultaneous launch with the other Athlon speeds means that it's likely it will arrive a bit sooner -- even later this month. If, as AMD has promised, the 1GHz Athlon is available in full production quantities when it is introduced, the chip will be widely available well before the equivalent Pentium III. Intel has made it clear that the 1GHz PIII will be available only in limited quantities for the first half of the year.

Intel is set to release 850MHz and 866MHz Pentium IIIs on 20 March, and is planning a 933MHz chip launch for the second quarter. It is believed the 850MHz chip will support only a 100MHz system bus -- the pipeline between the chip and chipset inside a PC. The 866MHz version will support only a 133MHz bus, as will the 933MHz and 1GHz Pentium III chips.

The 900MHz Athlon is said to support a 200MHz bus, while the 1GHz will likely be the same. The latest chipset for the Athlon -- VIA Technologies' VIA Apollo KX133 -- offers a 200MHz system bus with support for 133MHz SDRAM.

The race to produce a 1GHz chip has turned into something of a marketing battle between Intel and AMD. It's also become part of AMD's ongoing war to take 30 percent of the PC processor market. The company currently controls around 16 percent of that market.

1GHz chips -- or 950MHz, or 850MHz for that matter -- are mainly of use to high-end gamers and some corporate users. The main benefit of the speed war to the user who wants basic Net surfing, email and gaming capabilities is that faster processors at the top-end mean more reasonably priced machines with faster chips lower down the chain.

Richard Barry, Will Knight and ZDNet News US' John Spooner contributed to this report.

Take me to ZDNet's Eye2Eye interview with AMD boss Jerry Sanders for more information on AMD's plans.

There is a mad, suicidal race to the gigahertz barrier according to Guy Kewney of AnchorDesk UK, go and read the news comment on the AMD/Intel race.

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

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Topics: Hardware

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