AMD launches K6 in Asia amid dearth of PC vendor support

Advanced Micro Devices' Asia-Pacific launch of the long-awaited K6 series of Windows-compatible x86 processors here today lacked one important component: customers. AMD officials could not name one PC vendor in the region that has committed to offering systems powered by the new MMX multimedia-enhanced chips, which they say are faster and more than 30% cheaper than comparable Intel offerings.

Advanced Micro Devices' Asia-Pacific launch of the long-awaited K6 series of Windows-compatible x86 processors here today lacked one important component: customers.

AMD officials could not name one PC vendor in the region that has committed to offering systems powered by the new MMX multimedia-enhanced chips, which they sayare faster and more than 30% cheaper than comparable Intel offerings.

But there was a good reason for the apparent lack of vendor interest, officials said.

Local vendors had declined to come out in support of the sixth-generation AMD chips due to pressure from Intel, claimed Stephen Tsang, AMD's director of sales for Southeast Asia.

AMD officials in turn today took repeated snipes at Intel, whose efforts to silence an independent chip reviewer in the US recently received wide publicity.

"When you have more money than God, and you're as nasty as a rattlesnake, then I guess that you can do what you want to do," said Stephen Zelencik, senior vice president and chief marketing executive at Sunnyvale, California-based AMD.

Officials also shrugged off the fact that none of the world's top-tier PC vendors lined up at AMD's U.S. K6 launch yesterday.

"We have done business with almost everybody in the Top 20 [list of PC vendors]," said Zelencik. "We're going to sell everything we make."

AMD has already shipped around 10,000 of the chips to customers and has the capacity in place to make up to 500,000 units of the K6 in this quarter, as well as up to 5.5 million units in this year's second half, said Zelencik.

In the US, only a few smaller PC vendors, such as Tatung Co. of America, a subsidiary of Taiwan's Tatung Co., and Micro Express, yesterday announced immediate plans for K6 systems.

A "substantial number" number of European PC vendors are also set to introduce K6-powered systems within days, said Zelencik, and AMD still remains optimistic about winning prominent customers for the K6.

Billing the K6, running at clock-speeds up to 233 MHz, as "the world's fastest x86 processor," AMD officials said that they now have a product that offers better performance than any of their competitors'.

AMD's window for making such claims may, however, be short-lived.

The Santa Clara, California-based Intel is scheduled early next month to introduce its new chip family, the MMX-enhanced Pentium II, which includes processors expected run at clock speeds of 233 MHz and 266 MHz. The chip giant's most powerful chip today, the Pentium Pro, tops out at 200 MHz.

And although AMD officials said that before year's end they expect to deliver K6 iterations running at speeds up to 300 MHz, Intel has reportedly already sent out samples of 300-MHz Pentium IIs to select customers.

Intel has also decided to reverse its earlier decision on stopping development of its fifth-generation Pentium chips at the 200-MHz level, sources close to the company said.

It now will introduce a 233-MHz version of its Pentium/MMX chip before mid-year, and is also planning to release a 266-MHz offering, the sources close to Intel said.

The K6 chips are designed to fit in the same Socket 7 motherboards that house the Pentium chips, while the Pentium II chips will need a new board architecture featuring Intel's proprietary Slot One chip-card interface.

Intel officials did not want to make any comments about the company's Pentium plans.

"We don't comment on unannounced products," said Joseph Lin, country marketing manager at Intel in Taiwan.

Dataquest Inc. says AMD and fellow x86 processor vendor Cyrix Corp. are well-positioned to start unraveling Intel's dominance in the marketplace.

While Intel has about 95% of the x86 market, the San Jose, California-based market researcher predicts that AMD and Cyrix could grab as much as 25 percent market share by 2000.

"They [AMD] won't steal the market from Intel," says Geoff Ballew, Dataquest's senior industry analyst, semiconductor application market research, speaking at a seminar here earlier this week.

But gaining even between 5% and eight percent share would be good news for AMD, which today is better positioned than it has been since the days of the 40-MHz 386 processors in the early 90s, with both the right product and the capacity to make them, he says.

AMD officials, meanwhile, were confident that the K6 would lead to more and cheaper choices for customers.

"We have a better product," said Zelencik. "And it can be brought to market more effectively at a lower cost."

Intel's Lin, meanwhile, welcomed the launch of the K6, saying that it was a sign of health for the industry as a whole. "It will push us all to do better."

Pricing for the K6 ranges from US$244 for the 166-MHz MD-K6-166 to $349 for the 200-MHz and $469 for the 233-MHz versions, in 1,000-unit quantities, AMD said.

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