AMD has upped the speed of its flagship desktop Athlon processor once again today, launching both a 2700+ and a 2800+ version of the chip.

The 2800+ now takes pride of place at the top of the range, with the 2700+ following hot on its heels. To give us an idea of the speed of the 2700+, AMD supplied a test sample.

The 2700+ runs at 2.17GHz, just a touch faster than the 2.13GHz clockspeed of the previous top-speed Athlon, the 2600+. Both the 2700+ and the 2800+ feature a faster 333MHz front side bus, as opposed to the 266MHz version used by previous Athlon XP chips.

"The front side bus is like the main highway inside a PC, carrying all kinds of data going in and out of the CPU," said Shane Rau, research analyst for semiconductors at IDC.

Improving the speed of the front side bus generates more of an improvement in overall processor performance than the relatively small clock speed increases expected in the two new Athlons, explains Rau.

Therefore we might have expected to see a hike in speed, but when PC Advisor ran the 2700+ through our WorldBench tests it scored just 127 — four points lower than the 2600+ AMD supplied us with back in August.

But the faster test score could be due to the inclusion of more RAM: the 2600+ was backed up by 512MB of DDR RAM, whereas AMD only supplied 256MB DDR RAM with the 2700+. It also has a different graphics card — ATI's 128MB DDR RAM Radeon 9700 as opposed to the 128MB DDR RAM nVidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 twinned with the 2600+. These two factors could easily explain the slight drop in the WorldBench score.

For the full review, click here.

But our results do show that the 2700+ clearly isn't leaving its predecessor in the dust, and the tiny speed hike it may offer with more powerful components probably isn’t enough to inspire users to upgrade.

The next release AMD has planned are chips based on its Barton core, which will feature 512KB of Level 2 cache (memory that is external to the processor). Like the current releases, the Barton cores are 32bit processors. Furthermore, the company also said the release of Athlon and Opteron processors based on AMD's 64bit Hammer technology would be delayed.

"As Hammer comes out and takes over their performance line-up, Athlon will take over their value systems. Having new speed grades demonstrates the processor has new life," according to Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Athlon chips based on the Barton core will come out in the first quarter of 2003, before the 64bit Hammer chips, according to AMD. This means AMD will be able to position its Athlon processors as a high-performance , low-cost alternative to the Hammer chips. The company has previously announced it will phase out its lowest-priced product, the Duron processor, by the end of the year.

However, rival chipmaker Intel is expected to release a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 desktop processor equipped with its Hyperthreading technology in the fourth quarter. Intel's Hyperthreading technology allows software written for multiple-processor systems to run on a single processor.

This could erase any performance gain realised by AMD's forthcoming technologies, but it's too early to know how the latest battles between AMD and Intel will turn out, said McCarron.

"Both [companies] are trying to crank out as much performance as they can at the lowest prices in order to present the best value picture," said Rau.