Dell quizzes customers on AMD-based PC

Longtime Intel champion Dell Computer is asking customers if they would prefer computers with AMD chips. Is the company pondering a switch to AMD processors?

Is longtime Intel champion Dell Computer testing the waters for home PCs based on Advanced Micro Devices processors?

A recent survey commissioned by the leading PC maker asks customers to state a preference between a PC based on AMD chips and one that uses Intel processors.

Dell is the only major North American PC maker to use Intel processors exclusively. Others, such as Compaq Computer, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and IBM offer both Intel and AMD chips in their desktop lines.

Dell's status as the worldwide leader in PC sales would make a move to AMD chips a significant shift for the company. Founder and CEO Michael Dell has at times blasted AMD's Athlon processor as an unproven computing platform.

But these are desperate times in the PC business, and Dell could be looking for a way to further differentiate its systems from competitors or to offer lower prices.

IDC analyst Roger Kay said it would be advantageous for Dell to offer AMD because of pricing and performance. The Athlon is priced lower than chips like the Pentium 4 and offers similar or better performance.

The Dell survey first asks customers if they would consider AMD's Athlon and Duron processors, Intel's Celeron, Pentium III and Pentium 4 processors, and also PowerPC processors. It then asks participants to state which processors they would most and least prefer and why.

The survey concludes by asking, "Assume you are in the process of purchasing a new desktop computer for your home. Also assume that the two desktop computers you are considering have IDENTICAL product features with one exception. One desktop computer has an Intel Pentium III 1GHz processor and is priced at US$1,099. The second desktop computer has an AMD Athlon 1GHz processor and is priced at US$1,049. Which computer would you most prefer?"

Despite the implications of the survey, a Dell representative downplayed it, stating the document is not indicative of any change in the company's product plans.

"It's just market research and anticipating future demand," the representative said. It's "a chance to touch customers and get some feedback from them about what they're looking for...but it's not indicative of any certain move.

"We're always evaluating technology, and we'll make the right decision for the customer."

Who makes the better PC chip?

Analysts said that it wouldn't be surprising for Dell at some point to add Athlon or Duron processors to its Dimension PC line. The Dimension line is geared toward home and small and midsized business buyers, who are less likely to be concerned with which processors are inside their PCs, as long as the PCs perform well.

"With this sort of research, it looks like Dell is testing the waters for an AMD product," Kay said.

The survey was originally sent to Dell customers who had recently purchased a new PC, and who were then asked to fill it out on the company's Home and Home Office Web site, the Dell representative said.