MICROPROCESSOR:  Up, up and away…



After making inroads into the performance and value segment of the global
home PC market through its Duron and Athlon lines of processors, it is now the
turn of the notebooks, servers and workstations. And Advanced Micro Devices
(AMD) is leaving no stone unturned. The company first announced two new Athlon
chips and a chipset as Intel Corp’s main rival in microprocessors seeking to
gain a foothold in the lucrative computer-server market. Next, it has introduced
the 1.4-GHz Athlon processor for the performance market and the 950-MHz Duron
processor for everyday business and home computing.

With the introduction of the Athlon two years ago, AMD, for the first time,
had a processor that matched Intel toe-to-toe on performance. And the results
were spectacular–processor and other core sales rose by over 30% and revenue,
income and processor marketshare grew significantly. Not even the softness in
the PC sales market seemed to bother AMD, with the company posting annual sales
for 2000 that were 63% higher than in 1999.

What’s more, between the processors sold early in 2000 based on the K7
core, and those sold in the second half of the year based on the Thunderbird
core, Athlon has achieved a 24% unit share, bringing AMD’s total global
desktop share to 17%.

According to experts, the Athlon MP processors running at speeds of 1 Ghz and
1.2 Ghz, coupled with the AMD-760 MP chipset, give AMD an advantage against its
larger rival Intel because on certain performance benchmarks, AMD’s new chips
better Intel’s current offerings and are less expensive. The two processors,
for now, are designed for the entry-level server market, which contain one or
two chips per server and typically cost $6,000 or less.

The Athlon MP chip also boasts some 52 new instructions that help boost
floating-point performance, which is one measure of gauging ability to crunch
data. Better floating-point performance means faster delivery of multimedia
files and decreases the time required to render complex designs of rockets,
aerodynamic performance and other number-intensive applications, for example.
Naturally, experts believe that this is the first and fundamental step that the
company has taken into the server market.

The company has also been concentrating on performance segment through its
policy of introducing better products and is positioning its 1.4-GHz Athlon
processor as the world’s most powerful PC processor in this market. Says Pat
Moorhead, vice-president, desktop and mobile marketing, AMD, “At 1.4GHz,
the AMD Athlon processor with DDR memory continues to significantly outperform
the competition as the most powerful PC platform in the world, reinforcing AMD’s
leadership in performance.”

However, AMD’s performance lead may be short-lived if we take into account
the May 21 announcement of Intel. The company has announced that its new Xeon
chips, using the Pentium 4 core and running at 1.7 Ghz, will be available by the
end of Q2. Intel isn’t ill prepared; with the upcoming Prestonia (Xeon MP)
chip supposedly shipping with Jackson technology enabled for the first time, it
should be able to give AMD a run for their money, especially the larger cache
versions. However, that is still over half-a-year away, and AMD has a time on
its side.

Shubhendu Parth in New Delhi

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