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  Athlon 4, AMD puts the pressure on 
  May 14, 2001, 12:00pm EDT 
By: Sander Sassen

AMD seems to be putting the pressure on Intel lately, not only does its current line of Athlon CPUs offer equivalent or better performance than Intelís current flagship CPU, the Pentium 4, but their CPUs are priced significantly lower too. While AMD has had the just released Athlon 4 in development for quite some time now, it delayed its launch to be able to put in extra features and make the CPU more attractive and better suited to take on various market segments beforehand dominated by Intel.

Athlon 4ís code name, Palomino, has been a buzz word in the industry for months and today AMD finally disclosed details about the new architecture and its features. The CPU introduced today is the mobile Athlon 4 and is naturally meant to go head to head with Intelís Mobile Pentium III. One of the most compelling features right out of the box is its PowerNow! technology which in essence is a lot different from Intelís Speedstep featured on Mobile Pentium IIIs. It works by reducing CPU clockspeed and core frequency when less processing power is required. This is actually different than Intelís Speedstep solution, where the CPU is clocked to a lower frequency and core voltage at default when running on batteries and is issued a Ďhaltí mode when no processing is required.

AMD Athlon 4

Fig 1. The Athlon 4, manufactured in .18-micron and featuring 37.5-million transistors on a 128 mm2 die.

The mobile Athlon 4 that was introduced today at clockspeeds of 850MHz, 900MHz, 950MHz and 1GHz and contains a number of improvements, of which the PowerNow! feature is one that helps cut the power consumption by 20%. And although the mobile Athlon 4 is slightly bigger in die-size than previous versions, featuring more transistors within, the mobile Athlon 4 chip was designed to consume 24 watts or less, when running at peak performance.

Unlike Intel, which will be re-packaging their Pentium 4 CPUs after the clockspeed has been upped to 2Ghz, the Athlon 4 will continue using the same Socket-A platform, caching scheme as well as the 200MHz or 266MHz frontside bus as weíve grow accustomed to from the old Athlon. And other than featuring the PowerNow! technology the Athlon also packs 52 new multimedia instructions which are identical to Intel's Streaming SIMD Extensions, or SSE1. Those instructions were introduced with the first Pentium III CPUs to speed up and improve overall efficiency of handling multimedia instructions as often used in games and video playback.

Although the mobile Athlon 4 seems to cater to the mobile market alone, AMD will actually soon be releasing a desktop and server version of the Palomino which will differ only in clockspeed. Combined with a fast DDR memory sub-system and a dual CPU capable chipset AMD will then finally be able to endeavor into the x86 workstation and server markets thatíve been Intelís monopoly up until now.

With the upcoming introduction of the AMD 760MP chipset, AMD is set to have an answer to Intelís upcoming new Xeon DP architecture, which would otherwise have become the de-facto standard for x86 workstations. Although the Intel Xeon DP will be introduced at clockspeeds of up to 1.7GHz, AMD might match Intel in clockspeed by introducing a 760MP configuration running two Athlon 4s at 1.7GHz.

So although the release of the mobile Athlon 4 may mark just a small step for AMD into the realm of Intelís mobile performance segment monopoly, the introduction of the desktop and server Athlon 4 may mark the end of an era where SMP and dual CPUs have been synonymous with Intel. It will be interesting to see what AMD has in store for us in the upcoming months, and whether they have what it takes to follow through with Athlon 4.

Sander Sassen.

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