AMD expanding Athlon chip family

Athlon Professional and Athlon Ultra K7s are coming. A consumer brand is in the works, too.
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is planning a family. The company on Monday will make public plans for a family of several new Athlon brand names, including a high-performance desktop brand and enterprise and consumer Athlon versions, sources close to the Sunnyvale, California, chip maker confirmed Monday.

The Athlon will be branded first as a high-performance desktop chip. The processor, formerly known as K7, will be called Athlon Professional. Athlon Professional will grace high-performance desktop PCs from companies such as Gateway Inc., sources said. Later, the Athlon Ultra brand name will debut for servers and workstations.

A new brand name for lower-priced consumer Athlon chips will also follow. It is likely that this brand will not be available for some time, as AMD has plans to continue selling its K6-2 chip, which tops out at 475MHz, and improving its K6-III chip, available now at 450MHz.

AMD is expected to elaborate on these and possibly other brand names on Monday, sources said. The company will announce then, "Here's what AMD knows needs to go into [the chips]," said one source. While the Athlon Professional will be aimed at desktops, Athlon Ultra chips, with support for multiprocessing, will be used for workstations and servers. AMD will position the chips as alternatives for corporations that have standardised on hardware that uses Pentium brand processors from Intel Corp., sources said.

The new details on Athlon, which will ship this month to end users, come not a moment too soon for AMD. The company has suffered in the last few quarters from falling average selling prices of its K6-2 and K6-III chips. The K6-III, for example, was launched into the market early in the second quarter with high hopes, but was reduced in price very quickly.

But with Athlon, AMD is hoping that won't happen so quickly. The chip, which ships this month at 500MHz, 550MHz, and 600MHz, will match the top Intel Pentium III speed grades, which are also 500MHz, 550MHz and 600MHz.

AMD on Monday will also disclose performance benchmarks for Athlon. The company claims the chip will "significantly outperform" Pentium IIIs of the same clock speed in integer, floating-point and multimedia performance, sources said.

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