Katmai set to take on 3DNOW! - Analysts mixed

Intel's Craig Barrett declared war on AMD Wednesday saying it would push Katmai "aggressively across the entire processor line" in a bid to ward off rival 3DNOW! technology.

In an exclusive interview with ZDNet News, Barrett hinted that the Katmai launch price may be lower than the company's usual $900 (£548) mark. Analysts expect it to come in at between $600 (£365) and $800 (£488).

"You can expect us to push Katmai very aggressively across the entire processor line very quickly,' said Barrett. Katmai, part of Intel's 32-bit road-map, is designed to enhance visual computing aspects such as 3D, imaging and motion video both for consumer and business PCs and is expected by Q1 or Q2 next year.

But AMD, which is rapidly gaining credence in the games industry, claims Intel is shooting itself in the foot by launching Katmai at the high-end where PC volumes are low. "Intel has made mistake. We have a near-9 month lead with 3DNOW! by the time Katmai launches, our position in the mainstream market will be stronger. People will have to wait up to a year to be able afford Katmai," said AMD's North European marketing manager Richard Baker.

Keith Diefendorff, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report, agreed that Intel's high-end launch was risky: "Intel needs lots of software in place for Katmai instructions which is difficult in the high-end as software vendors want high volumes." But more importantly, according to Diefendorff, was how quickly Intel drives Katmai down its product line. "Intel had better be aggressive otherwise AMD will take a big chunk. AMD is also improving performance, particularly with K7, and is pushing into Intel's space. The two will meet head on around the middle of 1999," he said.

But Dataquest Analyst Joe D'Elia was unconvinced that Katmai and 3DNOW! would compete in the same space. "From a pricing point of view, you'd need Celeron with Katmai [instructions] to compete. AMD does have the lead with games aficionados but for mainstream business and consumer use, its irrelevant. Katmai will do what 3DNOW! does and beyond," said D'Elia.

AMD is winning support outside the traditional gaming quarter. Microsoft supports 3DNOW! through its DirectX API and, in the application arena, through its Chrome Effects web application.

A stumbling block for AMD could be its the ability to supply parts in sufficient numbers. "Intel spends more on PR in a year than AMD makes in revenues. It's a question of a tank and a Mini," added D'Elia.

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