Processor wars heating up

It's been nearly a year now, and Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

It's been nearly a year now, and Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. continue to trade blows in their PC processor death match without an end in sight.

20 July 2000 - While it has been a month since AMD's last chip launch and nearly two months since Intel's, the bell is about to ding for Round 3.

In other words, bring on the third quarter. Intel will be the first to land a punch this quarter, with the announcement of a faster desktop chip.

The company promises to be ready to rumble July 31, when it releases a 1.1GHz desktop Pentium III.

The chip, actually running at 1,133MHz, will have a slight megahertz advantage, but will be available only in limited quantities at first. (Intel's 1GHz Pentium III, the company says, will increase in availability over the quarter, with sources predicting volume shipments at the quarter's midpoint.)

AMD cooking up new Athlon
AMD is far from down for the count, however. It is cooking up a 1.1GHz Athlon chip, which sources say is due in mid-August.

Company insiders have jabbed back at Intel, saying that despite waiting a few extra weeks for availability, AMD's 1.1GHz processor and resulting systems will be available on day of launch.

The chip will feature "performance-enhancing cache memory," or 256KB of integrated cache, based on the company's Thunderbird processor core.

AMD is also expected to launch a 750MHz Duron chip around the same time.

Price cuts coming, too
The last year of the Intel-AMD tiff has also been rife with price cutting. While they've been sparring over megahertz, the chip makers have also been landing haymakers on the cost front.

This week, for instance, Intel reduced prices on select desktop Pentium III chips as part of a scheduled price hacking.

Pricing on the 1GHz Pentium III chip stayed the same at $990. The largest price drop was on the 800MHz Pentium III, which fell 24 percent from $385 to $294.

Prices on the 866MHz and 933MHz PIIIs were reduced by 17 percent and 10 percent, to $465 and $669, respectively. Intel also cut prices on its Pentium III Xeon by between 9 percent and 12 percent.

Intel schedules these moves ahead of time, averaging about one price-cutting session per month, a spokesman explained.

AMD will fight back with price cuts of its own, near the introduction of its 1.1GHz Athlon. The 1GHz Athlon is priced at $990 right now, with the 950MHz at $759.

Notebooks: The final say
Notebook PCs will be the final battle zone.

Currently, except for a few models that use AMD's K6-2+, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Pavilion notebook series, most notebooks use Intel Pentium IIIs or Celerons.

But AMD is planning to jump into the ring with Intel on this front, as well, with a planned unveiling this week of some new details on its mobile strategy.

In the second half of the year, AMD will offer mobile Athlon and mobile Duron processors.

The company is also set to announce that chip-set makers Acer Labs Inc. and VIA Technologies Inc. will offer supporting chip sets for the mobile Athlon and Duron chips.

Revving that Mustang
The new mobile chips will be based on AMD's forthcoming Mustang processor. The core, which supports up to 1MB of integrated Level 2 cache, will also yield desktop chips, workstation and server chips, and mobile chips.

Clock speeds will vary depending on the type of chip, but Mustang core-based Athlons for high-end desktops and servers are expected to debut at or close to 1.3GHz.

AMD disclosed for the first time at PC Expo last month that it plans to offer a mobile Duron chip along with its mobile Athlon. The differentiators between the two mobile chips are expected to be clock speed and cache size, along with price.

Mobile Athlon chips, due to their mobile status, will come in at significantly lower clock speeds than their desktop cousins. Mobile Athlon chips are expected later this quarter at about 800MHz, while mobile Duron chips are expected at lower clock speeds, possibly 500MHz to 600MHz, sources said.

AMD's mobile Athlons will be based on a mobile version of the Mustang core, which now has its own code name: Corvette.

And the winner is ...?
Analysts believe that at some point Intel and AMD will tire of this boxing match.

Mike Feibus, Mercury Research's principal analyst, believes the fighters will move into a "reserved co-existence."

"Intel, in general, has to face the reality that it has a serious competitor (in AMD). A serious competitor is one that, in terms of product offerings, can match it top to bottom," he said.

As for AMD's new mobile chips, Feibus said: "I think they should do reasonably well. AMD has been grabbing more and more of the consumer market (for notebooks) with the K6-2, and the K7 (a code name for Athlon) series will help them branch out and up."

Round 4, anyone?
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