January 2000 Industry Update

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Intel Processors

On Dec. 20, Intel announced their Pentium III 750MHz and 800MHz processors, however availability on these appears to be quite low – as in ‘unavailable’. Even the 733MHz processors announced in November are still quite difficult to obtain. The reason appears to be that Intel ‘pre-announced’ these speeds in order to appear to be keeping up with Athlon speeds. Interestingly, the Intel roadmap for September showed that the 800MHz Coppermine was not scheduled until 2H ’00, which means that AMD has applied significant pressure in this market segment.

The most recent Intel roadmap indicates that the Willamette is scheduled to be released in 2H ’00 at speeds greater than 1GHz, though it is uncertain whether this will be in Q3 or Q4. It is almost certain that 1GHz speeds will be reached well before Q3, given the rate of speed increases lately. Some have already suggested that the Coppermine is running into yield problems at 800MHz, and Intel is running out of process tweaks. While this may, or may not, be true it is quite apparent that Intel is getting quite a run for it’s money from AMD.

Yesterday (Jan 4), Intel announced their 533MHz Celeron processor – right on schedule. What this appears to indicate is that Intel feels very comfortable that they have now regained the lead in the ‘low end’ market, where the K6 processors have given them so much competition. Until the AMD K6-2+ and VIA Joshua processors appear later in Q1, expect the activity in the low-end markets to remain quite slow.

The one area that Intel continues to dominate is the business market, which is huge. Though many businesses are willing to accept non-Intel based motherboards, most still insist on an Intel processor. The old adage about IBM is now being used in conjunction with Intel – “Nobody has ever lost his job by going with Intel”. Unless, and until, this perception changes, Intel will continue to hold on to their huge market percentage.

AMD Processors

It’s (almost) official – the K6-III is essentially at End-of-life, to be replaced by the K6-2+ processors, however don’t expect this to happen soon. The word I have heard from a source close to AMD is that the K6-III “was designed to compete vs. Pentium II/III (not Celeron) and does so at frequencies below 500Mhz. Above 500Mhz we have the Athlon to compete with the PIII. Expect the K6-2+ to continue competing with Celeron“.

There are several points that need to be made here. First, the K6-2+ will not likely be available until late in Q1, perhaps even later. Second, the K6-III will apparently continue to be offered below 500MHz until it no longer makes any sense to do so (i.e., Intel does not have any Pentium II/III processors at that speed).

As part of my research on market trends, I called several vendors who cater to the DIY market and was told that Athlon sales dominated the Christmas season. I also heard from several small OEMs that their sales to end users were almost exclusively Athlon based systems – presumably for use as gaming systems. It would appear that AMD is gaining quite a following, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they made a decent profit in this quarter.

The 800MHz Athlon will be released this week, most likely in conjunction with CES on Jan. 6. It also has been reported that the 500MHz Athlon is being discontinued, which would make sense since these were primarily targeted towards the OEM market. Athlons are currently being manufactured (and will continue to be throughout the year) at .18 micron using Aluminum interconnects in Fab 25. Fab 30 (Dresden) will begin shipping Athlons based upon the Copper process in Q2.

The most likely candidates for the Cu process are the Spitfire and Thunderbird processors. Though there has been no official confirmation of the configurations, it appears that Spitfire will be offered as a Socket A processor and will have 128K L2 cache. Thunderbird will likely be offered as both Slot A and Socket A, and will sport 256K to 512K L2 cache.

In Q3/Q4, the Mustang (Slot A & Socket A) will be introduced will have full-speed L2 cache, up to 2MB and will have a 266MHz FSB. This will be a ‘low-power’ processor and will be aimed at the high-end (servers and workstations). AMD has said that the Mustang core will “also enable mobile Athlon processors as well as powering lower-end Athlons (much like the difference between Thunderbird and Spitfire). The idea is one core, several end products. Will make it easier for OEMs to build a common platform that is capable of scaling from the value segment through to the high-end (with some obvious adjustments/additions to the hardware config and the chipset used).

VIA (Cyrix/IDT) Update

VIA is set to announce the availability of the Joshua processor near the end of February. This processor is based upon the Cyrix M-II core, and will continue to use the much-reviled PR rating. Enhancements will include more cache, 3D-Now! Instruction set, A dual pipelined FPU and MMX improvements. Initially, the processor will be offered at PR-433 and PR-466 speeds, ramping quickly up to PR-500. The PR-433 will actually run at 300MHz (100MHz FSB).

VIA is targeting this processor to compete head-to-head with the Celeron line. It will be offered as a Socket 370 processor, making it the only direct Celeron replacement. In addition, the Joshua will include support for a 133MHz FSB, giving it quite an edge over the Celeron in terms of features. Unfortunately, the PR rating may be a stumbling block, because of the bad press it has received in the past. The DIY market will likely not quickly accept this processor, but low cost and decent performance may entice quite a number of OEMs.

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