AMD revs up Athlon 4 and Duron chips

New Durons get the Morgan core with PowerNow power management - AMD's answer to Intel's Speedstep
Written by John G.Spooner, Contributor

AMD on Monday gave its Athlon 4 and Duron chips a performance boost.

The chipmaker announced a 1.1GHz Athlon 4 and a 900MHz Duron -- both for notebook PCs -- and said Compaq Computer will offer the new mobile chips in its Presario 1200 line. AMD also announced its intent to ship a 1GHz desktop Duron later this quarter.

AMD's newest Athlon 4 represents a 100MHz jump in speed from the first chip in that series, introduced in May at up to 1GHz. A 1.2GHz Athlon 4 is expected in the fourth quarter.

The new Duron chips represent a more significant refresh because they are based on a new processor core -- known as Morgan -- with several enhancements over the current Duron. Morgan is essentially a lower-cost version of the Athlon 4's core -- called the Palomino -- with PowerNow power management added along with a prefetch level 2 cache.

Both cores offer the same Socket A packaging system, cache sizes and 200MHz front-side bus -- the data pathway from the chip to system components such as memory -- as Athlon's Thunderbird core, which is currently used only on the desktop. They also pack AMD's PowerNow technology and 52 new multimedia instructions in the form of Intel's Streaming SIMD Extensions, or SSE1. Those instructions were introduced with the first Pentium III chips to help them handle multimedia by breaking data into smaller chunks, which can be processed in parallel.

PowerNow serves to increase notebook battery life by lowering the clock speed and voltage. The technology features an "automatic" mode that continuously varies the chip's clock speed and voltages based on the demands placed on it by applications.

The Palomino/Morgan prefetch feature allows the cache to recognize patterns and automatically grab the data needed by the processor before it's actually needed. This way, the chip doesn't have to wait for the data when it comes time to perform an operation.

This month, the Athlon chip turns 2. During the two years that AMD has marketed the chip, it has seen wins with each of the 10 largest PC makers, except for Dell Computer. Despite a recent setback with IBM, AMD increased its market share last quarter from the midteens to 22.2 percent, according to Mercury Research. By comparison, rival Intel's had 76.7 percent share.

The younger Duron also has had its share of success. "Duron has become very well accepted in the marketplace, and we think it will continue down that path," AMD spokesman Ward Tisdale said.

The 1GHz Duron desktop chip should begin shipping later in the quarter. "We expect widespread availability around the time of the Windows XP launch in October," Tisdale said.

List price for the 1.1GHz mobile Athlon 4 is $425, while the 900MHz mobile Duron is priced at $130. The 1GHz desktop Duron lists for $89.

A 1.5GHz desktop Athlon processor is expected next month, completing AMD's move from its Thunderbird and Spitfire processor cores -- the current desktop Athlon and the desktop and mobile Duron, respectively -- to the Palomino and Morgan cores. Palomino and Morgan should continue into the first half of next year, when AMD will replace them with Thoroughbred and Appaloosa, similar processor cores based on a new 0.13-micron manufacturing process. Currently, AMD manufactures its chips on a 0.18-micron process with copper interconnects.

Meanwhile, MicronPC announced Monday that it will continue to offer only Intel processors in its ClientPro line of PCs for business and government. A MicronPC representative added that, for the foreseeable future, the company will still offer AMD processors in its line of Millennia Max PCs for consumers and small office/home office buyers.

"We're reaffirming our commitment (to Intel) and streamlining our product line," spokeswoman Michele Casey said. "We continue to have a strong relationship with AMD."

Regardless, AMD appears to be getting government business elsewhere.

Citing Dataquest figures, the company claims 32 percent of the government market for PCs.

AMD also announced Monday that the US Navy will purchase 1,192 Athlon-based PCs for the Naval Academy's incoming class.

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