AMD crashes Intel's desert chipfest

Never has Palm Springs seen so much speed: AMD shows off its 1.1GHz Athlon across town from Intel's own fast chip bash
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor on

AMD brought its own ultra-gigahertz demo to the desert resort of Palm Springs, California this week. Crashing Intel's Developer Forum, which is going on simultaneously across town, AMD brought along a pair of future Athlon chips, each running at 1.1GHz. The demos were made at room temperature.

"That speaks to where Dresden (AMD's newest processor manufacturing plant in Germany) is at," said Mark Bode, division marketing manager for AMD's Athlon Product Marketing Group. "It's there when we want to go with it." AMD will begin producing significant quantities of chips from Dresden in the second quarter.

The company has said that it will deliver 1GHz and faster Athlon chips in the second half of this year. Officially, it is shooting for the fourth quarter, but it's likely that the company will try to move the date forward, considering Intel announced on Tuesday that it will be shipping a 1GHz Pentium III chip in volume in the third quarter. Intel also demonstrated its forthcoming Willamette chip, running at 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz, on Tuesday.

For consumers, the rivalry between the manufacturers means that faster chips will be available in PCs more quickly. AMD is also making investments in developing new chipset technologies for the Athlon, which will increase performance via faster bus speeds.

The chips used in AMD's demo are based on the company's forthcoming Thunderbird processor core, which will include integrated cache and, later, copper interconnects. Thunderbird is due in the second half of the year. Its on-die cache should yield a performance improvement of up to 10 percent, according to AMD officials.

Thunderbird will also support new packaging, called Socket A. The integrated cache will negate the need for AMD's cartridge-like Slot A processor package, which now includes a board for the Athlon's 512KB external cache.

Less packaging means AMD will be able to reduce the price of each socketed Athlon by a few dollars. At the same time, it offers a more efficient means for removing heat from the chip.

In terms of branding, AMD might market the Thunderbird chips under the Athlon Professional name. The company is developing a new chipset for use with the Thunderbird processors. The most important feature of the new chipset, called the AMD 760, is that it will boost the EV6 bus speed from 200MHz to 266MHz.

The 760, due in the second half, will also support a quadruple-speed accelerated graphics port, as well as double data rate (DDR) synchronous dynamic RAM at 200MHz and 266MHz.

VIA Technologies will also release a new chipset for Athlon on Socket A. Called the VIA KZ-133, it will support quadruple-speed AGP and 133MHz SDRAM, otherwise known as PC133 memory.

Also in the second quarter, AMD will introduce Spitfire, an Athlon core designed for use in sub-$1,000 (£620) PCs. "We're trying to design parts that fit into price points," Bode said.

The company is working to deliver Spitfire-based chips for PCs priced at $999 (£619) , $799 (£495) and $599 (£371). The processors will also utilise the Socket A package and integrated cache, but will receive less cache than Thunderbird.

Spitfire won't be branded as an Athlon, thoughAMD says it is in the process of narrowing down a final list of names for the chip. The company's third quarter chip plans will allow Mustang, a third Athlon processor core, out of its corral. Mustang will offer up to 2MB of integrated cache for workstation and server applications, and mobile features for use in notebook PCs. Mustang will likely be sold under the Athlon Professional brand name.

AMD will also release a new chipset for Mustang, the AMD 770, which will support two-way processing and offer a 266MHz bus and support for 266MHz DDR.

Last week, AMD began shipping an 850MHz Athlon chip.

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