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The Gigahertz game: is it all just hype?

AMD and Intel are both looking to release 1,000MHz processors in the second half of this year. But the speed battle might be distracting us from the issues that matter

Accusing Intel of playing "silly marketing games" around the launch of its 1GHz Pentium III processor, chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) says it won't publicise its own 1GHz Athlon chip until it's available in production quantities.

Earlier this week at Intel's Developer Forum, the dominant PC chip manufacturer revealed it is shipping limited quantities of the 1GHz chip to three OEMs: Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Both Intel and AMD have said the 1,000MHz chips will be available in the second half of the year.

"We will ship [the 1GHz chip] when we can ship it in reasonable volume," said an AMD spokesman. "We don't need to play sill marketing games." The spokesman accused Intel of using the hype machine to distract the industry from the fact that AMD is currently shipping the fastest chip available in full production quantities, the 850MHz Athlon.

"We've never been in the position of losing face if we don't have the fastest thing on the street," the spokesman said.

Intel's response: it's not a launch, merely "information". The chips are going out in sample quantities to the three OEMs, a standard procedure aimed to give manufacturers an opportunity to prepare their own products, Intel said. "We were just giving more information on the chips," said an Intel spokeswoman. "This wasn't an announcement or a news release."

Neither Intel nor AMD are new to the game of marketing one-upsmanship. But the game can backfire from time to time, say observers -- for example, by focusing attention on its 1GHz PIII, Intel runs the risk of undermining interest in the chips it is releasing now.

What's more, all the hype around raw processor power can obscure the real issues affecting users, experts say.

The focus on processor speed "is a little artificial in that we should be looking to squeeze more out of the overall architecture than just the chip," said Martin Hingley, vice president of IDC's European systems group. He points out that the processor will have less and less of an impact on how fast a system operates as factors such as bus speed become bottlenecks.

Having the fastest chip in production is "a very good advantage" for AMD, Hingley conceded. "But if we just go blindly into the concept that the faster [the chips] run, the faster the PCs will be, we're making a mistake."

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For full coverage see the Intel Developer Forum roundup.