Despite current marketing hype, Advanced Micro Devices next technology thrust against arch-rival Intel Corp. comes late this year. That's when a not-yet-introduced Athlon version of the 32-/64-bit Hammer family debuts and the 512KB L2 cache Athlon, code-named Barton, is unveiled.
In the meantime, AMD is sticking doggedly to its Athlon core design with virtually no changes. The firm next Monday will unveil its new 130-nanometer (0.13-micron) node Athlon XP processor, but except for shrinking the die size from 128sq.mm to 80sq.mm, the design remains unchanged.
AMD didn't even take advantage of the die shrink to increase the 256KB L2 cache on the chip, which could have given a major performance boost. That waits for Barton in 2H '02. By contrast, Intel increased the cache to 512KB for its first 130nm Northwood version of Pentium 4 introduced early this year.
The 130nm Athlon XP, code-named Thoroughbred, does get an increased clock frequency to 1.8GHz, or a performance rating of 2200+ on AMD's model numbering system. Future versions will probably inch this up, but even an Intel gadfly like Bert McComas, principal of InQuest Research, Gilbert, Ariz., acknowledged that Intel is moving ahead of AMD in the performance derby with rapid increases in clock frequency.
Which makes the waiting time for AMD's 64/32-bit desktop Athlon version of Hammer and the Opteron server version critical for the MPU challenger's fortunes.
Opteron will roll into production early next year, although sample server chips were on motherboards all over the big Computex show in Taiwan this week. And in the next six months AMD will be battling ferociously to get design wins with server systems makers, a market the No. 2 MPU vendor has had a hard time cracking.
An AMD spokesman denied that the prolonged wait for new technology processors will impact the firm in the short term. "We have very competitive products now and the new Barton and Hammer series will make AMD the performance leader by far," he claimed.
Meanwhile, AMD and Intel in the last month have continued their vicious processor price war, each slashing prices 20%-to-30%. A major fallout from the 130nm shrink race has been to increase yields and cut production costs for both firms, spurring the never-ending blood-letting.
The constantly sliding processor prices has even caught the attention of Federal Reserve Board economists. FRB analyst Ana Aizcorbe has prepared a statistical paper which merely documents what everyone in the chip supply chain already well knows: that Intel cuts its chip profit margins "substantially from 1993-99." Still, Aizcorbe attributed only 3.5 percentage points of a 24% price decline in the price index for Intel's chips to the profit margin cut. "The data suggest that virtually all of the remaining price declines can be attributed to quality increases associated with product innovation."
For now the AMD-Intel battle is more of the same. We have to wait to see how the new AMD Opteron and 64/32-bit Athlon changes the combat forces.