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AMD Beefs Up Athlon Chip Line

Not to be outdone by archrival Intel Corp. at the CeBIT conference this week, AMD moved aggressively to bolster its Athlon portfolio with the release of a trio of chips.

Debuting in Hanover, Germany were the Athlon XP processor 2100+ for desktop PCs, the AMD Athlon MP processor 2000+ for servers and workstations, and the mobile Athlon 4 processor 1600+ for notebook PCs.

Sunnyvale, Calif.'s AMD is billing its XP 2100+ as the fastest desktop server in the world, which Intel would no doubt have something to say about. However, the chip is fitted with the company's QuantiSpeed architecture, and is designed to bolster photo editing, visual computing and 3D gaming applications. The MP 2000+ for servers featuring Smart MP technology for scalability and, last but not least, the mobile AMD Athlon 4 processor 1600+ features AMD PowerNow! technology, which optimizes battery life and performance. More precise technical specifications may be found here.

Moreover, AMD received endorsements for its new chips from Compaq Computer Corp. , Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, and NEC-CI. AMD also enjoys a working relationship with Microsoft Corp. , and claims its chips are suited for running Windows XP. However, it is especially cozy with Compaq, as the firms Wednesday agreed to deliver consumers Compaq Presario digital media desktops featuring the XP processor and NVIDIA nForce Platform with integrated GeForce2 graphics processing unit (GPU) -- all of which means the firms aim to wow customers with killer graphics and other multimedia provisions.

Priced at $429 and $415, respectively, the Athlon XP 2100+ and the Athlon MP 2000+ are available now. The mobile AMD Athlon 4 processor 1600+, which will roll out in Compaq notebooks soon, is priced at $380. These price points reflect 1,000-unit quantities.

On a broader scale, chipmakers and those they supply received good news Wednesday, as market research firm IDC revised PC revenue estimates for the better. IDC said it sees worldwide PC shipments rising 3 percent from an earlier expectation of 1.8 percent growth for the year. "Retail sales in the United States and growing demand in Western Europe were key factors in revising the numbers," IDC said.

While AMD is pleased at this point with its new chips, it recognizes that it needs to up the ante in its two-horse race with Intel. So, AMD tipped its hand Wednesday and pledged to deliver new Athlon XP processors codenamed "Thoroughbred," based on 0.13 micron technology to customers later this month.

Many analysts measure chip progress by those who move to a smaller 0.13 micron size, as Intel has already done. Because of their architecture, .13 micron chips bolster performance, as well as use lower power and smaller die sizes.

"AMD's leadership in manufacturing technology and outstanding design capabilities helps ensure that this small die will give us even more advantage in the future," said Bill Siegle, senior vice president and chief scientist, Technology Operations, AMD.

To give the notion some perspective, AMD said that on 0.13 micron technology, the "Thoroughbred" core of the Athlon XP processor is roughly 38 percent smaller than the current AMD Athlon XP processor on 0.18 process technology.

AMD said it expects the entire Athlon family will be produced on 0.13 micron technology by the end of 2002. As previously announced, AMD will ship its "Hammer," processor, which uses a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) version of the .13 micron technology, at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the fight for the smallest chip continues as Intel said at CeBIT that it is working on SRAM, or static random access memory, chips that may store 52 million bits of data, compared with 32 million bits for other comparable chips on the market. Intel is using a production process that can draw lines of circuitry that are 0.09 micron in size, compared with the current 0.13-micron process.