AMD slips in new lower-performing Athlon 64

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) released a new Athlon 64 processor this week that is a little different than its older brother launched in September. But it comes at a price that will help AMD’s 64-bit technology find its way into lower-priced desktops.

The AMD Athlon 64 3000+ runs at 2.0GHz, the same clock speed as the Athlon 64 3200+ released in September. But the new chip comes with 512KB of cache, half the cache of its predecessor, an AMD spokesperson said.

Cache is on-chip memory that stores frequently accessed instructions close to the CPU. A processor can execute a task much faster if it doesn’t have to wait for that task to be pulled out of system memory.

AMD wants to release a line of Athlon 64 chips with the lower cache in order to establish a budget version of the chip, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif. Rival chipmaker Intel Corp. has done the same thing with its Celeron processors, he said.

The Celeron processor is essentially the same as the Pentium 4 processor. Intel disables half the cache of a Pentium 4 chip to create the Celeron, Brookwood said. AMD probably took a similar approach with the Athlon 64 3000+, he said.

The processor will be sold for US$218 in quantities of 1,000 units. The Athlon 64 3200+ costs US$417, which puts it out of reach for many desktop buyers, Brookwood said. The highest performance desktop chip in AMD’s 64-bit stable, the Athlon FX-51, costs US$733.

AMD’s Athlon 64 processors allow users to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications on their systems, provided they have a 64-bit operating system. Several versions of Linux are available that support AMD’s 64-bit technology, but sales of PCs with the chip are not expected to really take off until Microsoft Corp. releases a full 64-bit version of Windows XP for the Athlon 64 some time in 2004. A beta version is currently available.

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