IDT C6 Winchip – Is It Viable?

We were recently given the opportunity to test the 225MHz C6 Winchip from IDT, and talk with a representative about the company’s current and future plans. Overall, we were very impressed with IDT’s chances of making a successful bid to grab some market share. Based upon our tests, and the claims made regarding future enhancements, the only thing that might stand in IDTs way would be a failure to mount an effective marketing campaign.

The first thing we were shown was IDTs plan to capture the very low end market that even AMD and Cyrix are leaving behind. With Cyrix announcing the end of the 6x86MX PR200, and AMD no longer producing the K6-200, this leaves only Intel to compete directly with IDT at those speeds presently, and even Intel will soon abandon all but the 233MHz processor. What makes this plan look so good is that IDT’s business model allows a retail price that is almost what the production costs are for AMD and Cyrix – yet still make a reasonable profit! This means that when it becomes unprofitable for the other manufacturers to continue offering a product, IDT can still satisfy that market segment without losing money.

The IDT rep then showed us the future plans of the company, which included a much faster FPU (almost equivalent to Intel’s), the inclusion of AMD’s 3D instructions, future speeds up to 300MHz, the move to .25 micron technology, and a few other enhancements which will allow IDT to provide attractive future upgrade options – a necessary component of any plan to woo customers to jump to a relatively unknown product. Key to this plan is the fact that IDT does not intend to compete head-to-head except at the very low-end, which the other manufacturers will be much less likely to pay much attention to. The stated objective is to facilitate the move to sub-$800 systems that can still provide profitability.

It is one thing to make plans on paper, but the real test comes where the ‘rubber hits the road’, so to speak. The rep we spoke with claimed that the C6 Winchip would perform on par with the equivalent K6 processor in business peformance, though it would be slightly slower than the Cyrix CPUs. To test this, we took an M Tech R581A and ran the C6 225MHz and K6-233 head-to-head under the Winstone 97 business suite. To our surprise, the benchmark results were identical! When the price of the processor is considered (even less than a Cyrix PR233), this makes the C6 processor a much better bargain.

One thing that does need to be considered is that the Winchip is optimized for Windows 95 (and presumably Windows 98) operation, and so will perform relatively slowly under Windows NT or other operating systems. This is because the C6 is a RISC based processor which includes the most common instructions utilized by Windows 95 applications. The rest of the instructions are implemented in microcode, which is obviously slower. The fact remains, however, that for the average user the C6 Winchip will provide excellent performance at a minimal cost.

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