What Is An Athlon?

This fall has seen the latest, and perhaps best, challenge to Intel's desktop CPU monopoly for Windows-based computers.

A company named AMD (American Micro Devices) has been making clones of Intel's processors since the era of the lowly 386. For years they specialized in making their processors at a lower cost than Intel's offerings, and also produced higher clock speeds than Intel offered. This was especially true after Intel released their next-generation chip, allowing AMD to gradually take over the lower end of the market.

Following the release of Intel's Pentium, AMD developed their K5 and K6 processors. Based on AMD's own designs, rather than a licensed clone of Intel's, these processors benchmarked at about the same level as comparable offerings by Intel. However, the K6 included AMD's new 3DNow! technology, a superset of Intel's then-fledgling MMX multimedia extensions to their CPUs. 3DNow! quickly caught on with game developers since it offers better performance than MMX alone.

This fall AMD unveiled their new seventh-generation CPU, dubbed "Athlon." The Athlon is making waves throughout our industry since, for the first time, AMD has passed Intel to become the performance leader in Intel-compatible CPUs. For example, a 600 MHz Athlon is faster than a 650 MHz Pentium III. AMD expects to reach speeds over 1 GHz (1,000 MHz) early next year.

While Intel is countering their threat with faster speeds of its own, do not count AMD out yet. The upstart has already announced that its eighth generation chip (code named "SledgeHammer") will be significantly faster than Intel's announced plans for its next CPU, Itanium.

January 2000

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