AMD fires up 1.1GHz Athlon demo

Advanced Micro Devices one-upped rival Intel in the chip demo wars, showing off an upcoming 1GHz-plus Athlon processor using its 'Thunderbird' core

AMD pulled the wraps off a 1.1GHz version of the next-generation Athlon processor with its forthcoming Thunderbird processor core at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuit Conference in San Francisco.

AMD showed the 1.1GHz Athlon chip in response to Intel's discussion of a forthcoming 1GHz Pentium III chip. AMD officials took the opportunity, too, to say they're not lagging in this chip speed race.

"To our customers, it's a further indication that we're executing to the plan that (AMD Chairman and CEO Jerry) Sanders has laid out for us," said Steve Lapinski, director of product marketing for AMD's Computational Products Group. "We felt it quite appropriate to make sure people understood (AMD) is well along with production and manufacturing goals, (including) the Dresden (Germany) facility."

The 1.1GHz Athlon chip was demonstrated in a system built by AMD with off-the-shelf parts, including its AMD 750 chip set, with a 200MHz system bus. AMD ran a utility called MyCPU, which showed how fast the chip was running.

The processor was produced at AMD's Fab 30 manufacturing plant. It included two new features that are due in future Athlon chips. Those include copper interconnects and integrated Level 2 cache. The new features will help AMD raise the performance of the Athlon. The current 800MHz and forthcoming 850MHz chips utilise aluminium interconnects and an external 512KB cache. The 850MHz Athlon is expected next week.

At the outset, copper will offer end users "little performance difference," Lapinski said. "The performance difference comes in L2 cache."

The Athlon chip's next major improvement is expected to be the integration of level 2 cache, which helps increase performance by allowing for faster access to data by storing it on a chip, where it can be accessed at full clock speed. The copper interconnects will show gains farther down the road, Lapinski said.

AMD would not say when the 1.1GHz chip would ship, though the company has said it will have a 1GHz Athlon by the fourth quarter of this year. The first shipments of Thunderbird-based Athlons are expected in the second quarter. The first revenue shipments of copper-based Athlons are expected at the end of the second quarter, which means end users will not get them until sometime in the third quarter.

It is not likely that integrated L2 and copper will be combined, initially. They will be used in the same Athlon chip over time, however.

While AMD holds the faster-gigahertz demo speed crown for now, Intel has been saving up a demo of its own 1-gig-plus chip, code-named Willamette, for its Intel Developer Forum, next week.

Ever wondered exactly what those 1GHz chips are for, apart from making money for their manufacturers? So has Tony Westbrook of AnchorDesk UK, and he has a cunning plan to curb the clock speed madness...

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