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AMD chops fast Athlon prices

In the meantime, Intel prepares to launch faster versions of its low-cost Celeron chip

Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) announced price cuts on its top-end processors on Friday, paving the way for cheaper PCs at the top of the line.

The California-based chip manufacturer plans to reduce prices on three of its highest speed-grade -- 950MHz, 900MHz and 850MHz -- Athlon processors by about 10 percent, according to the company.

The chips were reduced to $899, $799 and $749 (£557, £495 and £464), respectively. The 950MHz and 900MHz speed chips were introduced just two weeks ago, on 6 March, at $999 and $899 (£619 and £557), respectively. The cost of the 1GHz Athlon, also introduced on 6 March, will remain unchanged. The price of the low-cost K6-2 processor will also stay the same.

Intel, meanwhile, will release faster speeds of its budget-oriented Celeron chip next week, according to reports. The dominant chip maker will launch 600MHz and 566MHz Celerons. An Intel spokesman would not confirm the launch date, but said the chips will be the first Celerons to use the 0.18-micron manufacturing process.

The new Celerons will also use the Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) instruction set used by Pentium IIIs, which optimises the chip for multimedia applications. The chips will be manufactured with 256kB of on-chip cache, although half of that memory will be disabled.

Intel is likely to follow up by releasing 633MHz and 667MHz Celerons next month. The company has said it will release Celerons for laptop computers running at 550MHz, at least, during the first half of the year.

The second half of the year will mark the introduction of Intel's next-generation budget processor, codenamed Timna. The new chip, which will co-exist with Celeron for some time, will integrate the CPU with the memory and graphics controller elements; Celeron has graphics integrated into the chipset. The design change will mean better-performing processors that can be manufactured at a lower cost.

AMD will challenge the new Celerons with the K6-2+, which will be introduced in the next few weeks. The chip, a revamp of the budget K6-2 processor, is based on the same 0.18-micron process as the Athlon. K6-2+ will, however, only be available for laptop computers.

Around the same time as Timna's launch, AMD plans to release Spitfire, its own next-generation budget processor -- a scaled-down, cheaper version of the Athlon.

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