AMD is improving its lead in speed specs over Intel today 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.

Key PC manufacturers have started offering PC Advisor systems for review, the first of which will appear in our February issue (on the shelves at the end of December).

Despite the limited vendor support at launch, the 1.2GHz Athlon is important because it puts AMD in a good position heading into the all important Xmas season.

While Intel's delayed P4 is expected soon, and it should perform faster than the Athlon, the chip is likely to be in short supply and expensive at first.

Industry watchers believe if AMD can supply enough high-speed Athlons, the company should be able to satisfy customers demanding high-speed systems for the Xmas shopping spree.

AMD is also increasing the speed of its value-priced Duron processor to 800 MHz. Duron competes with Intel's Celeron processor.

The Duron's 200-MHz front side bus is also significantly faster than the current Celeron's 66-MHz bus.