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AMD Ships Notebook Chips

It wasn't the first to go small, and it won't be the biggest producer, but AMD's 64-bit 90-nanometer (nm) chips are expected to make waves in the semiconductor pool.

The semiconductor maker said it has shipped its low-power 90nm Mobile AMD Athlon 64 processors for thin and light notebooks (previously codenamed "Oakville"). AMD says the desktop chips will ship later this quarter, while its Opteron counterpart for servers will ship later this year. The company also said it is right on schedule to deliver 90nm dual-core products in mid-2005.

"We promised 90 nanometer revenue shipments in the third quarter, and today we're delivering on that promise," Dirk Meyer, AMD executive vice president, said in a statement.

The new chips will eventually compete with other 64-bit 90nm chips from companies, such as Intel and IBM , which helped AMD develop its silicon-on-insulator (SOI) CPUs. Texas Instruments and Fujitsu are also working on similarly sized and configured processors.

AMD's 64-bit processors are gaining notoriety because of their lower price points, as well as adoption by system vendors, such as Sun Microsystems and HP.

Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for In-Stat/MDR, points out that AMD's announcement is just the beginning of a long road for the No. 2 chipmaker.

"AMD is limited to only one 200mm fab today, so the die shrink provided by 90nm (from 130nm) will increase AMD's unit capacity significantly (up to a 100 percent increase when AMD completes the conversion to 90nm) and lowers AMD's die costs," Krewell told "The new process will significantly lower Athlon64 power for notebook designs, but it will still not be as low in power as [Intel's] Pentium M."

Working with 90nm transistors means the chips are much smaller and more power efficient than their 130nm predecessors, which allow for greater transistor densities within chips. AMD said the technology lets them add on additional components, including a second core and other improvements, on the same chip without a dramatic increase to chip size.

"90nm is a bit less of a challenge for AMD than an Intel, Texas Instruments or Fujitsu in that it outsources so much of its process R&D and manufacturing," Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with market research firm Illuminata told "More interesting was their 'on track for dual core mid-2005' reaffirmation. AMD is betting on 64-bits, optimizing for memory bandwidth, and dual core make for a very powerful combination."

As previously reported, AMD and other semiconductor manufacturers are switching to dual-core architectures in order to continue to speed up systems while avoiding heat-dissipation problems.

In a separate news item, AMD launched its fastest CPU to date for desktop-replacement notebooks. The Athlon 64 3700+ runs at 2.4GHz with 128K of Level 1 and 1MB of Level 2 cache. Priced at $500 in 1,000-unit quantities, the new chip combines AMD's integrated, 64-bit DDR400 memory controller with a HyperTransport I/O link, as well as AMD64 technology that combines peak 32-bit performance with 64-bit software compatibility.

The notebook processor is also significant in that it takes advantage of Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 2 release. AMD's Enhanced Virus Protection security feature is built into its Athlon 64 processors and works with the software upgrade to prevent common problems like buffer overflows .

Already, HP has announced that its Pavilion ZV5000Z and Compaq Presario R3000Z series laptops, like VoodooPC's custom-built Envy gaming notebooks, will use the new Socket 754 processor.

Editor's note: editor Eric Grevstad contributed to this report.