AMD's Duron completes ambitious line-up

UPDATE: New chip is another step in plans to take 33 percent of world PC market share
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

AMD Monday launched its latest assault on Intel's low-cost Celeron processor, announcing the Duron processor is available in full production volumes. As ZDNet reported last week, the processor is shipping in speeds of 700MHz, 650MHz and 600MHz, with several features that give it a performance boost over Intel's value chip.

The chips are priced at $192, $154 and $112 (about £127, £102 and £74), respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities.

Duron, which will eventually replace the time-worn K6 line of processors, is aimed at the sub-£600 PC market in which Intel has a strong presence. Intel's fastest Celeron, at 600MHz, costs $138 (£91) in OEM quantities. The dominant chip maker has said it will release Celerons running as fast as 700MHz in the next two weeks.

AMD has announced manufacturing deals for Duron with most major PC makers -- with Dell continuing as the major holdout -- but PCs may not be available from top-tier companies right away. In the UK, Time, Evesham and others are shipping Duron systems immediately, AMD said.

Duron bulks up AMD's offerings in the value market, an area it has neglected lately in favour of the more lucrative high-end segment. For example, two weeks ago the company launched a new line of Athlons with a faster, more integrated memory cache, the chips code-named Thunderbird. The shipment of Duron gives AMD a range of product comparable to Intel's, experts said.

"With the AMD Duron processor in the value space and the AMD Athlon processor in the performance space, AMD now offers superior solutions, top to bottom, across all desktop system price points," said Hector Ruiz, AMD's president and chief operating officer, in a prepared statement.

Duron is based on the core technology of Athlon, AMD's latest chip architecture. Like the new Athlons, its memory cache is integrated onto the chip die, allowing the unit to transfer vital data to and from the cache at the chip's full clock speed. Previous designs, with the cache off-die, forced the cache to slow down to a fraction of the clock speed.

The chip boasts 192kB of primary and secondary cache, compared to Celeron's 160kB.

Duron also boasts a 200MHz front-side bus, the gateway between the chip and the rest of the system, which can become a bottleneck in fast systems. Celeron's bus speed is 66MHz.

Analysts said AMD's two new chips give it a line-up that could be, for the first time, a fully-fledged alternative to Intel microprocessors at the low and higher price points.

"This one-two punch to Intel's Pentium III and Celeron products should put AMD back in the driver's seat," said analyst Kevin Krewell of industry journal Microprocessor Report, in a recent analysis.

However, he pointed out Intel's Willamette, a major revision of the Pentium, is due out later this year and will again give AMD a run for its money.

Intel has had trouble shipping value-oriented processors recently because of an ongoing parts shortage and technical problems. Timna, an ultra-cheap processor, will be delayed until next year because of a memory-related bug, while shortages have delayed 633 and 667MHz Celerons until later this month. The chips were originally due in April.

Duron's rollout may also have been slightly slower than expected. Sources originally indicated Duron was to ship in volume last week. The chip will take longer for large manufacturers to integrate into their products because it requires a new motherboard, based on the Socket A packaging.

Guy Kewney hasn't had a phone call from anybody at Intel for over three months; and now that its big rival, AMD, has finally announced its "New Athlon" chip and its Duron chip, he rather thinks he can give up any hope of hearing from Intel for a very long time. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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