AMD hopes Athlon will perform

AMD must prove itself worthy of Intel's crown. Caroline Davis reports

AMD must prove itself worthy of Intel's crown. Caroline Davis reports

AMD is launching a challenge to Intel's virtual monopoly of the desktop chip market with the launch this week of the new Athlon high-end processor.

Running at speeds up to 1GHz, it will vie with Intel's Coppermine Pentium III. Meanwhile, AMD's low-end Duron processor, set to rival Celeron, will be released by end of the month.

But can AMD succeed where Cyrix, National Semiconductor and others have failed? Steve Kleynhans, vice-president of market analyst the Meta Group, thinks not. "I have no doubt that AMD's architecture is very good. But AMD chips were, in the past, targeted at low-cost, lower-quality systems. AMD has that stigma to overcome," he says.

Kleynhans believes large firms are more concerned about consistency and perceived quality than performance, speed or even cost savings. "Corporates want the best chip and they want it to last forever. The price drop, around £20, is not a big deal," he says.

However, Kleynhans thinks AMD's new processors will be welcomed by small and medium-sized businesses. "SMEs buy two dozen machines maximum at a time. Consistency is not such an issue - they are more interested in value for money at any given instant," he says.

Richard Baker, AMD's regional marketing manager for the PC Products Division, believes three factors will help Athlon succeed against Intel. First, users will be able to buy machines with greater performance than Athlon's rivals, but at a lower price.

Second, Baker believes the "Pentium" generation will be dead by the end of the year, but that the Athlon family is scheduled for another two to three years.

Third, AMD is working on the stability of the platform by developing a single motherboard to support the range of processors, simplifying management of the PCs.

As part of the commercial push, AMD is working on a 64-bit processor, codenamed Sledgehammer, which is due for release next year. It will use a different architecture to Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor, which will begin shipping this autumn.

IT departments will have to recompile code to run on Itanium servers. Legacy 32-bit applications will still run, but on a separate processor, and Kleynhans thinks they will run slower. Whereas AMD claims that, as Sledgehammer is simply "a logical extension" of the 32-bit architecture, legacy applications will run without recompiling.

However, Kleynhans thinks this is not enough. "AMD build a good micro-architecture, but it's not just about performance," he says.

More on new chips can be found at

AMD attacks Intel's market monopoly

Processor Intel # AMD
Low-end PC Celeron Duron
    (released this month)
High-end PC Pentium III New Athlon
64-bit server Itanium Sledgehammer
  (autumn release) (2001 release)

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