The processor market looks to be the most competitive at this time. In August, AMD released their Athlon processors at 500MHz through 600MHz speeds. This was followed quickly by the 650MHz processor, though it has primarily been available only to OEMs (and the gray market). Samples of 700MHz processors have been sent out, and this should be announced as available very soon. Unofficial word from AMD indicates that an 800MHz Athlon is not a question of ‘if’, but simply a question of when. It appears likely that AMD will announce a 750MHz part on Oct. 25 in order to wrest the MHz crown back from Intel’s grasp before they even have a chance to savor it.
Intel has had to sit and watch their lead in MHz vanish as they struggled to get the Coppermine launch ready. Troubles early this year pushed the release back from September to November, and the recent i820 problems has caused further complications. When the Athlon was released, the only answer Intel had was to put out a Pentium III at 600MHz that required a slightly higher voltage than other PIII processors – an old overclockers trick. The only way that Intel will be able to regain the ‘speed’ lead is with the .18 micron Coppermine. The current plan is to offer speeds from 450MHz to 733MHz at launch date (Oct 24), however the lack of an Intel 133MHz chipset may hamper this. Ironically, it may be that VIA will be Intel’s saviour here, as they already have two 133MHZ capable chipsets available.
In terms of performance, initial reports indicate that Intel has closed the gap between the PIII and Althon through the use of an on-die, full-speed, 256KB cache with a 256-bit bus width. This not only provides a low-latency data transfer but also a much greater bandwidth, which keeps the processor fed with data. AMD appears to have their own ‘Socket A’ processor planned for mid-2000, which will likely have on-die, full-speed L2 cache as well. It remains to be seen if they will also have a wider bus, and a larger (512K to 1MB) cache, which they apparently will have room for at .18 micron.
At the low end, Intel may decide to release their 533MHz Celeron early to complement the i810E chipset, which will provide 133MHz FSB as well as AGP 4x, as well as to combat AMD, who may have their K6-III 500MHz ready by then. AMD continues to claim that they will support the Socket 7 platform through the year 2000, with .18 micron offerings up to at least 600MHz, which is also the fastest speed Celeron on Intel’s current roadmap.
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