AMD Shows 1.1-GHz Athlon

In addition to its high speed, the new processor is noteworthy as the first demonstrated Athlon with an on-die secondary (L2) cache, although officials wouldn't disclose the size of that cache. Current Athlon processors use an off-die 512KB L2 cache.

Despite the unexpected 1.1-GHz demonstration, an AMD spokesperson says the company has not accelerated its projected date for shipping 1-GHz Athlon processors in volume. Company executives have said only that they expect to ship an Athlon product at that speed sometime later in the year. Intel is also expected to ship a 1-GHz processor this year.

AMD created the processor it demonstrated Monday using its 0.18-micron technology, and it features copper interconnects. Current Athlon processors use less-advanced aluminum interconnects, as do the latest Intel Pentium III processors. The new chip was produced at AMD's recently opened Fab 30 facility in Dresden, Germany, says Drew Prairie, AMD spokesperson.

In January, AMD demonstrated a 900-MHz Athlon using standard cooling techniques at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Prairie says. At that same show, Compaq unveiled a Presario desktop PC with an overclocked Athlon running at 1 GHz and using KryoTech's Super G cooling technology.

Overclocking a processor enables it to run at faster-than-standard speeds but requires special cooling techniques to prevent the chip from overheating. Intel has demonstrated an overclocked PIII running at better than 1 GHz. The company discussed on Monday an upcoming 1-GHz PIII using standard cooling techniques, but has yet to demonstrate the part publicly.

New L2 Important

AMD wouldn't provide many other details about the new Athlon or its new on-die L2 cache, but the processor should impress industry experts who have argued that the current Athlon's off-die L2 cache is its lone weakness. The latest round of Pentium III processors from Intel incorporated a 256KB on-die cache, and that significantly improved performance over same-speed PIIIs with off-die L2 caches.

Industry analysts have largely praised the design of the Athlon. At a seminar last month, Keith Diefendorff, editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report, called it a "very nice design; a more powerful design than the Intel PIII."

The Athlon seems to be "designed to be high frequency," he says, and AMD seems to be handily hitting the next speed plateaus. The current shipping Athlon runs at 800 MHz, the same as the fastest PIII on the market.

While praising the Athlon's design, Diefendorff had noted that to continue to compete with Intel's upcoming processors, the processor will require an on-die L2 cache. AMD seems to have answered that call with its latest prototype design.

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Tom Mainelli

PC World

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