The holiday chip battle continues to heat up with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s launch Monday of its Athlon XP 1900+ processor. Among the first vendors expected to ship PCs powered by the chip is MicronPC, followed soon by Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp.
The launch is just the latest in the ongoing skirmish between Intel and AMD. Recently, the two have been going back and forth slashing prices in an effort to stimulate the slumping PC industry's holiday sales. With this launch, AMD makes things more interesting for holiday buyers with a chip that one analyst predicts will compare favorably to Intel's 2-GHz Pentium 4.
The Athlon XP 1900+ is the latest chip to carry a model number based on AMD's controversial naming scheme that looks at performance instead of pure megahertz. AMD launched the program along with its first Athlon XP chips in October. The 1900+ chip's actual frequency is 1.6 GHz. Eventually the current model-numbering scheme will give way to an industry-wide rating AMD is spearheading called the True Performance Initiative, he says.
In the meantime, an AMD spokesperson says the model numbers have met with early success. And he claims they are helping to teach PC buyers the difference between processor speed and processor performance.
This model numbering system is designed for the end user who doesn't understand that a one 1.5-GHz chip can run differently than another 1.5-GHz chip, says Mark de Frere, AMD's Athlon brand manager.
And if there has been any confusion about the new model numbers, it hasn't hurt sales of the first Athlon XPs he says. "We have 250 partners selling systems or products based on Athlon XPs. And we're sold out of two of four speed grades." He declines to name those two speed grades.
While de Frere is ready to declare the model number system a success, analyst Dean McCarron of Mercury Research says it's too early to tell if the system will fly. However, the initial response hasn't been bad, he says.
"We haven't seen any wholesale rejection, which was the main concern," he says.
The important thing about the model numbers is it helps AMD to compete with Intel and its high-revving P4. Despite the P4's higher speed, benchmarks continue to show the "slower" AMD chips keeping pace.
McCarron says he's been impressed with AMD's restraint when naming its new chips. While AMD claims the processor numbers merely represent performance compared to previous Athlon chips, everyone knows the company wants it compared to the P4.
"The testing that we've done has been more than consistent with the number they're putting on it assuming they're pitting it against the P4," he says.
"I think they could have named the 1800+, the 1900+," McCarron says." "It just illustrates how careful they are being." AMD uses an outside firm, Anderson, to audit its benchmark results for authenticity.