AMD’s Athlon hits 1.2GHz, Duron 800MHz

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) on Tuesday took the wraps off its new 1.2GHz Athlon and 800MHz Duron PC microprocessors.

The fastest Athlon yet raises the bar from the current 1.1GHz level, and the processor offers 256K bytes of on-chip Level 2 cache and 128KB of on-chip Level 1 cache, a 200MHz system bus and AMD’s 3DNow graphics-boosting technology.

Gateway Inc. is expected to offer a system based on the new Athlon processor Tuesday, with Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. expected to follow suit in the near future, AMD said in a statement.

The Athlon chip, which initially was unveiled in August of 1999 and is designed for the high-performance desktop market, still has room for growth and is expected to be seen at higher speeds in the future, said Aaron Feen, a division marketing manager at AMD.

“It has long legs,” Feen said. “I expect the core to scale beyond the (current speeds).”

The new 800MHz Duron, meanwhile, boosts the maximum available speed of the processor from 750MHz. The chip comes with 192K bytes of cache memory, a 200MHz front-side bus and 3DNow graphics technology.

Intel Corp. used to be the chip maker that came out with quarterly speed upgrades but, at least for now, the shoe seems to be on the other foot, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst for Insight 64, in Saratoga, California. AMD this year has bumped its Athlon chip from 800MHz through the 900MHz range to 1GHz, 1.1GHz and now onto 1.2GHz.

Tuesday’s announcement is a continuation of AMD’s gradual increase in processor speed, he said.

“Both of these chips are what I would put into the speed bump category,” Brookwood said. “The performance of each chip scales pretty much with the clock frequency, which means the 1.2 (GHz) chip is getting a 5 percent to 8 percent boost in performance.”

Intel is expected as early as next month to come out with its Pentium IV chip with a clock speed of 1.4GHz. Similarly, after recalling its 1.13GHz Pentium III in August because of a technical glitch, the company expects to boost the speed of that part beyond 1GHz early next year.

Nevertheless, consumers have witnessed a dramatic reduction in price on AMD chips since the beginning of the year, Brookwood said. In February, the recently introduced 850MHz Athlon chip was selling at about US$900, he said. With clock speeds surpassing 1GHz, that same chip in October will retail for less than $200 and be seen in systems priced below $1,000, Brookwood said.

In the price-conscious consumer market, Brookwood suggested that the 800MHz Duron chip positions the company well against Intel’s 700MHz Celeron processor. AMD’s 200MHz system bus compares with the Celeron’s bus speed of 66MHz.

“Consequently, the AMD performance is considerably ahead of the Celeron,” Brookwood said. “That really has not had a big impact on the market … Consumers are just as interested in price (as) performance at this level.”

AMD has a list price of US$612 per processor for its 1.2 GHz Athlon, in 1,000-unit quantities. The new Duron chip has a suggested retail price of $170 in the same volume quantities.

AMD, in Sunnyvale, California, can be reached via the Internet at