AMD plans to beat Intel's best in '98

AMD believes it will be the engine for the fastest X86-based PCs by the end of next year.

The Californian chip maker has an ambitious roadmap that it believes will make it a clear performance leader and differentiate its products from Intel. Particular targets are putting graphics handling functionality on chip and making chips for mobile PCs.

Moreover, it plans to achieve that lofty goal without moving away from the tried and trusted Socket 7 architecture.

"Our competitors say if you want to have AGP you have to have Slot 1," said Richard Baker, European marketing manager at AMD. " We want to provide differentiation to Intel, providing its differentiation according to standards. Just as Intel used PCI as a crowbar to move people form 486 to Pentium, AGP will be Intel's crowbar to move people from Socket 7 to Slot 1. And Slot 1 is a stopgap for Intel until they get to Slot 2. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a microprocessor doubles every 18 months; Andy Grove's corollary is that Intel has to double the size of the slot architecture every 18 months."

In the first half of 1998, AMD plans to enhance Socket 7 with a 100MHz bus, and support for IEEE.1394 FireWire, PC 98 and 100MHz SDRAM. It will call the resulting platform Super 7.

The architecture will provide a home for the K6 3D -- a variant of the K6 processor that will also handle some 3D graphics functions -- which is expected in the first half of 1998. Built on a 0.25-micron process, the 81mm square chip will house 9.3 million transistors. The K6 3D's L2 cache will be on-chip and therefore run at the full 100MHz bus speed.

Intel's Deschutes will use an off-chip cache and Baker believes that will help AMD get a performance lead. "You cannot make a memory subsystem that runs as fast off-chip as on-chip," he said. "It's a lot more significant than the PII 100MHz cache; we'll get a 50 per cent performance advantage," said Baker. "There is no performance need for us to go to a PII bus. There is no enhancement."

Prior to that, in November AMD will perform a die shrink for the current K6. By using its new 0.25-micron process, the K6 will shrivel to from 162mm square to 68mm square, compared to the Pentium II's 205mm square. That will allow speeds of 266MHz and 300MHz, 60 per cent lower power and 2.2-volt operation.

AMD's first sixth-generation CPUs aimed at mobile PCs are sampling now and the firm plans a joint-announcement with a big-name notebook PC maker in January. AMD expects the first chips to run at 233MHz or possibly 266MHz and says they will support System Management Mode and 1.8-volt operation. Packaging will be PGA and a format AMD calls 'micro BGA'. "It will be a 2.5cm package with much, much smaller and better thermal characteristics than TCP," said Baker.

While Intel's mobile module format effectively precludes its Pentium MMX from ultra-thin notebooks, AMD will not be in any way restricted, Baker claimed.

AMD could find rich pickings: Intel's Pentium II for mobile PCs -- codenamed 'Deschutes' -- won't arrive until the second or third quarter of 1998 by most estimates.

In the second half of 1998