Intel, AMD battle for high-end PC market

Chip rivals Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) on Monday faced off with the introduction of a re-engineered Intel Pentium 4 chip and a new AMD Athlon XP processor, each targeted for the high-performance desktop PC market.

The 2.2GHz Pentium 4 chip represents the debut of Intel’s Northwood processor core, which uses 0.13-micron transistor relays and is faster and less expensive to produce than previous 0.18-micron chip cores, according to Intel. The new 2.2GHz Pentium 4 is now Intel’s fastest PC processor.

AMD’s Athlon XP Processor 2000+ raises the speed limit of AMD’s new line of performance-rated Athlon XP chips by delivering clock cycles of 1.67GHz, according to AMD. Benchmarking done by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD shows the 2000+ outperforming a 2GHz Pentium 4 chip by as much as 23 per cent when running a variety of common PC applications ranging from office productivity to gaming.

Athlon XP Processor 2000+ is AMD’s latest assault on Intel’s commanding grip on the PC processor market. Last October, AMD stopped branding its Athlon chips by their clock speeds in an effort to better stress the overall performance delivered by Athlon XP processors.

“(The 2000+) is the next step in continuing to deliver that performance,” said John Crank, brand manager for the Athlon XP line.

The introduction of the two new chips sets the stage for what experts believe will be a highly competitive year for rivals Intel and AMD in the PC processor market.

“I think it will be a real close year for both Intel and AMD,” said Nathan Brookwood, the principal analyst with Saratoga, Calif.-based Insight 64. “My guess is when the dust settles, the 2.2GHz (Intel chip) will nose out the Athlon a couple of percentage points by most benchmarks, but Athlon will still be very competitive.”

In line with Moore’s Law, the smaller 0.13-micron chip fabrication process of the 2.2GHz Pentium 4 paves the way for generations of faster Pentium 4 chips. Intel is already predicting a 3GHz Pentium 4 by year’s end. Caching has also been doubled with Northwood to 512K, an improvement experts said will increase the chip’s performance more significantly than the increase in clock speed.

Moving to a 0.13-micron chip core also means Intel can get nearly twice the number of chips on a 200mm processor die than it could with 0.18-micron core. A percentage of the cost savings here will be passed on to PC makers, according to Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif.

The 0.13-micron manufacturing process allows Intel to pack components more tightly on a chip, which can boost speed and lower cost, as well as reduce heat and power consumption. Pentium 4 chips using the Northwood core will also run at 1.5 volts, compared to 1.75 volts for current Pentium 4 processors. Lowering the voltage lets the chips run cooler, which will become more important as Intel further increases the frequency speed of future Pentium 4 chips, Intel representatives said.

AMD will shrink their own chip fabrication process from 0.18-microns to 0.13-microns during the first half of this year with AMD’s Thoroughbred and Appaloosa chip cores, accelerating the performance of its Athlon XP chips as it goes, said Crank.

As Intel accelerates its Pentium 4 chip through the course of the year, Brookwood expects that AMD will hold its own against Intel in terms of performance with AMD’s Thoroughbred and Appaloosa chip cores.

However, competition between AMD and Intel will come to a head in the forth quarter of 2002 when AMD introduces its Clawhammer processor core, a 64-bit PC chip based on x86 architecture that AMD officials have called “revolutionary.”

“As Intel increases clock frequency on the Pentium 4, I expect AMD to match them with the Athlon. And then we will see what happens when Clawhammer arrives. That could be make or break as far as competition against Intel,” said Brookwood.

AMD’s Clawhammer chip core will offer features like a built-in DDR (double data rate) memory controller that provides a shorter path to the processor and the DRAM memory, improving bandwidth and reducing processor latency, said Brookwood.

“All in all, Clawhammer, based on what AMD has said about it, could be a real barn burner. And if that’s the case, then just as the original Athlon was faster than the Pentium III, AMD expects Clawhammer to dramatically outperform the Pentium 4,” said Brookwood.

“Clawhammer will definitely be revolutionary in terms of performance,” said AMD’s Crank.

But until Clawhammer arrives, Brookwood said competition between AMD and Intel will be “very close.”

Pricing for the AMD Athlon Processor 2000+ starts at US$339 in lots of one thousand chips, according to AMD.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., is at

Intel of Canada Ltd. in Toronto, Ont., is at

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