AMD launches Athlon XP 2400+, 2600+ processors

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has begin shipping two new versions of its Athlon XP processor and says machines based on the chips can be expected in September. The new Athlon XP chips have performance ratings of 2400+ and 2600+, the company said in a statement. The processors are built using AMD's 0.13-micron Thoroughbred core, like the previous fastest 2200+ processor, which was the first AMD chip to use the core and appeared in June this year.

The 2400+ will run at 2.0GHz, while the 2600+ will run at 2.133GHz, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

AMD uses model numbers to rate its processors and give users an idea of their relative performance, rather than using the clock speeds of its chips in the official name, like Intel Corp. The model numbers are derived from internal benchmarks that measure the performance of the chips against competitors while running popular software applications such as Microsoft Corp.'s Word, the McAfee antivirus software from Network Associates Inc., and various games, said Mark deFrere, Athlon brand manager for AMD.

The benchmarking results are certified by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and are available on AMD's site.

The new Athlon XPs are the"highest-performing" processors in the world, AMD said in a statement.

The 2600+ and 2400+ processors will cost US$297 and $193 respectively in 1,000-unit quantities, which is a standard measurement for chip prices. AMD cut prices on most of its desktop and mobile processors as a result of the announcement Wednesday.

Launch of the new chips comes just over three years after AMD first unveiled its Athlon line of processors. The company got off to a flying start when the first chips, which ran at speeds between 500MHz and 600MHz, impressed with higher rankings in benchmark tests than comparable Intel processors of the day.

The debate over pure processing speeds versus overall efficiency ratings is a hot topic among hardware enthusiasts worldwide. AMD cedes the megahertz lead to Intel in just about all its chips, and generally uses a smaller front-side bus to connect the chip to the main memory and smaller L2 cache for extra on-chip memory. However, AMD claims it makes a more efficient processor that can accomplish more per clock cycle than Intel's Pentium 4s, using its QuantiSpeed architecture.

Performance also depends on what programs are being run, McCarron said. Older games and applications tend to run faster on AMD's chips, while newer games and applications favor Intel's chips, he said.

However, when it comes to the average PC user, "you can't buy a system that's too slow. If you look at the bottom-performing products today, they are faster than the top-performing products from a year ago," McCarron said.

The battle between the two companies continues to this day and, although AMD has found favor in niche markets such as gaming, Intel still dominates the performance desktop PC market. Overall, Intel shipped 82.8 percent of the processors sold in the second quarter of 2002 according to IDC. AMD did score a victory last week when Hewlett-Packard Co. said a new business PC from its Compaq unit will feature an Athlon XP 2000+ processor. For its part, Intel is not sitting still. The company is expected to launch its latest processor, a 2.8GHz version of the Pentium 4 next week, and will also cut prices on many of its chips. AMD is planning to release a 64-bit Athlon chip for the desktop based on its Clawhammer technology around the end of the year, which will be "a total change" in the PC market, said deFrere. Sixty-four-bit chips will allow a wider variety of applications to run on PCs than current 32-bits chips do.

The company will also release future versions of its current seventh-generation technology. It is "looking very hard" at increasing the size of the front-side bus for the next Athlon XP version, deFrere said. That chip will be based on its "Barton" core, which includes a 512K-byte L2 cache.

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