AMD, Intel, IBM stake out new territory at chip forum

Chip makers go for greater performance and lower power consumption in face of semiconductor downturn
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor

Chipmakers will pump up new chip designs in the face of grim earnings reports this week.

AMD, IBM and Intel, among others, will unveil new details about forthcoming PC processors at this week's Microprocessor Forum. Meanwhile, AMD and Intel will also mark the week with third-quarter earnings announcements.

The chipmakers will confront the semiconductor market downturn by offering chips with greater performance or lower power consumption. Some purport to be offering both.

AMD, for its part, will discuss design details of its forthcoming Hammer family of chips. Two versions of Hammer chips, Clawhammer and Sledgehammer, are destined to compete with Intel's Pentium 4 on the desktop and its Itanium in servers.

Hammer offers a new approach to 64-bit computing, allowing the chip to move back and forth between 32-bit mode and 64-bit mode through extensions to X86, the basic set of instructions used by PC chips such as the Pentium 4 and the Athlon. AMD says the approach allows computers to take advantage of the benefits of 64-bit processing, including the ability to do more work per clock cycle and address greater amounts of memory, without having to necessarily rewrite software.

The disclosure will mark the beginning of a busy week for AMD and Intel.

On Monday AMD also announced three new Athlon MP chips. And Intel will preview its new mobile processor, code-named Banias, discus its approach to multithreading--handling multiple processes at the same time--and unveil details about multiprocessor-capable Xeon server chips, due next year.

Both chipmakers will announce third-quarter earnings results, with Intel's coming Tuesday and AMD's on Wednesday.

AMD is expected to post a third-quarter loss of 28 cents a share on sales of $778.6m (£544m), according to First Call. The results are expected to be down sharply from the second quarter, when AMD reported a profit of 5 cents a share on sales of $985 million.

AMD announced the expected loss in a statement blaming falling prices, a result of its price war with Intel, and slowing flash-memory sales.

On a positive note, AMD said it held the line in processor shipments in the third quarter, moving as many as, or more than, it did in the second quarter, when it shipped 7.7 million chips.

Intel also reports earnings this week. The chipmaker is expected to log a third-quarter profit of 10 cents a share on revenue of $6.4bn, according to First Call.

But Intel is not without concerns. Confusion surrounds the availability date for its next Pentium 4 chip.

Meanwhile, IBM will use the Microprocessor Forum to unveil a new PowerPC chip that has the potential to be used by Apple Computer.

The new PowerPC 750FX chip, as previously reported, combines a number of IBM chipmaking tricks to lower power consumption and push up clock speed. The chip will be capable of hitting 1GHz.

Transmeta will also weigh in with the announcement of its Crusoe TM6000 chip. The new chip integrates more features than Transmeta's current TM5800 chip, for use in more power-sensitive applications, including embedded devices. The TM6000 will ship in the second half of 2002 at 1GHz, the company said.

The Microprocessor Forum is an annual confab for chip designers sponsored by the Microprocessor Report and held in San Jose, California.

Staff writer Larry Dignan contributed to this report.

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