AMD prepares chip onslaught on Intel

Processor underdog announces next-generation chip plans

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) plans to drop a hammer on chip rival Intel in 2002.

The chip maker Monday revealed plans to launch a number of chips including ClawHammer, a new processor that will yield clock speeds of 2GHz and higher.

ClawHammer will mark an important milestone for AMD, as it will be the first of the chip maker's forthcoming Hammer-family of processors, due in 2002.

The Hammer family represents AMD's eighth-generation processor, following the current Athlon. The Hammer architecture will offer much higher clock speeds, more advanced manufacturing processes and, most importantly, 64-bit addressing. The chip will include extensions to the X86 processor instruction set that will take it from 32-bit addressing to 64-bit addressing. "It's not only X86-64, it's industry leading 32-bit performance," said Mark Bode, AMD's division marketing manager for Athlon, in a Comdex/Fall 2000 briefing with ZDNet News.

ClawHammer will yield four types of chips targeted at the high-performance desktop, mobile, server and workstation markets, AMD officials said. The chip will sample to PC makers in the first quarter of next year.

SledgeHammer, a follow-on version for high-end servers, will debut in the second quarter of next year. It is designed for use in four-way and eight-way servers.

When it comes to operating systems, Microsoft has "evaluated it and we're incorporating their feedback," Bode said.

AMD is likely to begin producing the ClawHammer chip on its 0.18-micron manufacturing process. If so, the company will quickly transition it to a new 0.13-micron process, which promises chips with higher clock speeds and lower power consumption.

AMD also mapped aggressive plans to launch eight new Athlon and Duron chips by the middle of next year. These chips will be based on AMD's Mustang processor core. The updated processor core will feature higher clock speeds, lower power transistors and will also incorporate AMD's Power Now power management technology.

Despite AMD's high expectations for it, the Mustang core has seen a few setbacks. Most recently, AMD scrapped plans to offer large cache-size server chips based on the new core, which can offer up to 1MB of integrated cache.

However, PC makers said they did not need the larger cache sizes of the chip for two-way processor configurations. Those PC makers, the AMD officials said, would prefer to use Palomino, which offers higher clock speeds and more reasonable cache-sizes and pricing. "Palomino coupled with the 760MP chip set a solution that meets [PC maker's] needs for one and two processor workstation [and server] market," Bode said.

Palomino is also the next big thing for desktop PC buyers. The Mustang derivative is due in the first quarter of next year. The chip is slated to ship at 1.2GHz and 1.33GHz in the first quarter of 2001. "I'd expect a range of products, however we don't expect much overlap," said company spokesman Ben Anixter.

AMD chairman and chief executive Jerry Sanders has predicted that the chip would sample at 1.5GHz in January. However, AMD has now backed off that claim. Company officials said Monday that the projection was simply too aggressive. AMD now plans for Palomino to hit 1.33GHz in the first quarter and ship 1.5GHz in the second quarter of next year. A 1.7GHz Palomino is scheduled for the second half of 2001.

AMD's first mobile Athlon chip, a mobile version of the Palomino, will also ship in the first quarter of next year. All of AMD's Palomino chips are scheduled to sample to OEMs next month.

New low-cost chips AMD's K6-series chips will likely exit the market by the end of the first quarter of next year. The company will replace the chip with its Athlon-based, low cost Duron chip.

Duron is due for an upgrade as well. AMD will enhance Duron with a Mustang-based version of the chip, code-named Morgan. Morgan is due in the second quarter of 2001 at 800MHz. The new version of the chip will scale to 1GHz in the second half of 2001. Mobile Morgan chips are also planned for the second quarter.

So far, the Duron chip has been widely available in the reseller channel. However, large PC makers have been slow to adopt the chip. Recently, however, Compaq Computer began offering it in sub-$1000 PCs.

AMD expects the chip to become even more widely available with the scheduled December introduction of a new low-cost chipset by VIA Technologies Going forward, Duron PCs will be priced as low as about $599, Bode said.

AMD plans to transition Palomino and Morgan from its current 0.18-micron process to a new 0.13-micron process in the first half of 2002. The resulting chips are codenamed Thoroughbred and Appaloosa, respectively. AMD will change nothing about the chips besides their manufacturing process.

However, the process change alone will make for smaller, faster and cooler-running chips, Bode said.

The Hammer family of chips will also utilise a manufacturing process called silicon-on-insulator. The process adds a layer of oxide insulation between the transistor and its silicon substrate with the aim of reducing the leakage of electrical signals into the substrate. This is a performance-enhancing technique for faster processors. However, it can also be made to deliver lower-power consumption for mobile processors.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including interactive roadmaps for AMD, Intel and Transmeta.

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