A key feature of the new chip is expected to be a faster front-side bus, the data channel that controls how quickly the chip can communicate with memory. Increasing the bus speed from 333MHz to 400MHz, as AMD is expected to do, should mean a significant improvement in the overall performance of Athlon XP-based computers.
SiS and Via, two major chipset makers for AMD processors, are both talking up their plans to support an Athlon XP 400MHz front-side bus. SiS debuted the SiS748 chipset with 400MHz FSB support at the CeBIT trade show in Hannover earlier this month, and Via told ZDNet UK it is planning 400MHz FSB support imminently.
A chipset allows the PC processor to communicate with other PC components such as memory and peripherals.
Via recently launched its KT400A chipset as a broadside against Nvidia, whose Athlon-compatible nForce2 chipsets have recently proven popular enough to eat into Via's market share. "We get a lot of revenue and profit from Socket A (AMD) chipsets, and this is the first time we have ever had a real competitor in this area," said Via spokesman James Campbell. "Now it's important for us to get performance parity and surpass them."
Campbell said that the KT400A could be easily converted to use the upcoming Athlon XP's 400MHz FSB, a feature which he said was likely to come along shortly. "We might have to tape out the chipset again to work with the 400MHz FSB," he said, adding that this was a simple process.
Industry reports, including the Taiwanese journal DigiTimes, have reported that Via already has such a part ready, called the KT600. The chipset is pin-compatible with the KT400A, just as the KT400A is pin-compatible with previous Via chipsets, according to DigiTimes.
Via's KT600 plans may not be helping the company out in the short term, however. With the new chipset on the way in a matter of weeks, motherboard makers have not jumped to order the KT400A, DigiTimes reported.
Several industry sources have indicated that AMD plans to launch its Athlon XP 3200+, with 512KB of L2 cache memory and the 400MHz FSB, in late April or early May. AMD is to debut its long-awaited server processor, the Opteron, on 22 April.
AMD is looking for ways to improve the performance of the Athlon XP to remain competitive with the Pentium 4 until the delayed arrival of the Athlon64, a desktop chip based on the same technology as the Opteron. The Athlon64 is to arrive in September.