Intel's processor rival AMD has been claiming for some time that there is more to performance than clock speed in its battle with the chip giant. Now the company is ready to bet on it with the launch of its Athlon XP family of processors.
The new line of four Athlon XP processors, available from today, run at clock speeds ranging from 1.33GHz to 1.53GHz, but AMD has decided to take the focus off of simple clock speed, naming its latest chips Athlon XP 1500+, 1600+, 1700+ and 1800+.
The new model numbers are designed to represent the performance of the XP chips compared both to previous Athlons and the competition. For example, AMD says the 1800+ outperforms other processors running 1.8GHz, although the chip only runs at 1.53GHz, said Mark Bode, division product marketing manager for desktop products at AMD.
The battle runs back to the fifth generation of x86 processors, Bode said. "At that point, the underlying work component was different with each architecture," he said. Before that, the 286, 386 and 486 processors from both Intel and AMD were using the same underlying architecture, so clock speed was a fair measure of performance. "You expected that the work per clock cycle (of the processor) was going to go up and the frequency would go up," Bode said.
But with different architectures, clock speed alone does not equal performance, Bode said. "Other markets already realised a long time ago that clock speed is not everything," he said. "The highest performance workstation or server may not be the one with the highest clock speed."
Indeed, looking solely at clock speed, server chips have fallen behind desktop processors. In July, Compaq began shipping its 1GHz Alpha chip in servers, while the fastest version of Sun Microsystem's UltraSparc III chip runs at 900MHz.
"At the end of the day, consumers need to be looking at how applications actually perform," Bode said.
So as well as taking the spotlight away from clock speeds on its Athlon XP processors, AMD plans to start the True Performance Initiative, which would gather industry groups and consumer advocates to develop a 'true' performance measurement. "We're working to show (consumers) there is a megahertz myth out there," Bode said. AMD expects the new measurement to be in place by 2002.
Until a new standard comes into place, AMD released the Athlon XP family, the first family of processors based on the new chip core formerly codenamed Palomino. The 'XP' modifier signifies "extreme performance for Windows XP," the company said.
Among the improvements of the Athlon XP compared to previous versions are a 20 percent reduction in power consumption, enhanced multimedia and 3D instructions, and the QuantiSpeed architecture, which is "the brains of the organisation," Bode said.
Even with the new branding, AMD is still struggling to keep up with the competition, one analyst claimed. "You don't hear them talking about the 1900+ and the 2000+," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in California.
In comparison, Intel launched its 2GHz Pentium 4 chip at its developer forum in August, and yesterday announced a technology which, it hopes, will eventually see the processor reach speeds of 20GHz. Last year, Intel and AMD took turns leapfrogging each other with processor speeds, Brookwood said. "Now we're seeing a situation where AMD, although they're making a big leap, they're still behind," he said.
But one area where AMD does hold an advantage is price, Brookwood said. The Athlon XP 1800+ will cost around £170, while Intel sells its 2GHz Pentium 4 to customers for £380, according to pricing information on Intel's website.
"Unless Intel or its customers are willing to lower the price of its 1.9GHz and 2GHz to match what AMD is selling the 1800+ for, I think consumers will consider them both," Brookwood said.
Systems based on the Athlon XP will be available from 15 October from Compaq and Hewlett Packard in the US, and from NEC in Europe, Bode said.
The 1.53GHz Athlon XP 1800+ is priced at £170, the 1.47GHz 1700+ costs £128, the 1.4GHz 1600+ is priced at £108 and the 1.33GHz 1500+ is £88. Prices are for 1,000-unit quantities, a standard pricing measurement for chips.