AMD revs ahead with 1.2GHz Athlon

Advanced Micro Devices has improved its lead in speed specs over Intel yesterday with the release of a 1.2-GHz Athlon processor.

          Advanced Micro Devices has improved its lead in speed specs over Intel yesterday with the release of a 1.2GHz Athlon processor.

          The 1.2GHz chip follows AMD's recent introduction of the 1.1GHz Athlon; it continues to forge ahead while Intel's Pentium III chip development is stalled at 1 GHz, and the company's much-hyped Pentium 4 - launching at 1.4 and 1.5 GHz - isn't expected until late November.

          Despite the widening speed gap between the Athlon and the Pentium III, few major vendors are announcing systems touting what may be the world's fastest desktop processor at its launch. Gateway Computer is offering 1.2-GHz Athlon systems immediately, but other vendors with Athlon lines, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer, have yet to announce systems using the 1.2-GHz processor.

          Gateway builds its Select line to order but also offers a featured 1.2-GHz Select 1200 PC priced at $US2499. The system includes 128Mb of SDRAM, an NVidia GeForce2 Ultra video card with 64Mb of memory, a 60Gb hard drive, a 19-inch monitor, a 16X/40X DVD drive, a home networking/56-kbps modem card, Microsoft Windows Me, and Microsoft Works 2000.

          High-Speed Holidays

          Despite the limited vendor support at launch, the 1.2GHz Athlon is important because it puts AMD in a good position heading into the holiday shopping season, according to Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group.

          While Intel's delayed P4 is expected soon, and it should perform faster than the Athlon, the chip will likely be in short supply and expensive at first, Gwennap says. If AMD can supply enough high-speed Athlons, the company should be able to satisfy customers demanding high-speed systems for the holidays, he says.

          Athlon has won AMD much wider consumer acceptance, Gwennap says. Customers who wouldn't have considered AMD over Intel just a year or six months ago are now interested in buying Athlon systems, he says.

          AMD is hoping Athlon can also win more business customers in coming months, says Mark Bode, division marketing manager. Business buyers are traditionally more conservative than consumers and small businesses.

          AMD is encouraging PC vendors to use Athlon CPUs in business systems, not only in home PCs, Bode says. The company is also touting the chip's stability and its very release in the face of its competitor's recent delays.

          "It [Athlon] is available, it's scalable, and it's reliable," Bode says.

          Faster Durons Ship, Too

          AMD is also increasing the speed of its value-priced Duron processor to 800MHz. Duron competes with Intel's Celeron processor. The Duron's 200MHz front side bus is also significantly faster than the current Celeron's 66-MHz bus.

          The Duron actually competes with both Intel's Celeron and its low-end PIII products, Bode says. AMD maintains that Duron systems with discrete graphics cards often compare favorably in price and performance to PIII systems with Intel's 810E chip set with integrated graphics.

          Despite a slow start that saw few major vendors offering Duron-based systems at launch, Bode says the chip is catching on. Nearly 100 systems vendors around the world are planning Duron-based systems, and U.S. consumers should be able to buy Duron-based systems at retail stores during the holiday season, he says.

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