As Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s K7 microprocessor moves closer to a scheduled rollout next month, AMD and chip-set makers are working together to establish an infrastructure of supporting logic.
AMD will develop and ship small volumes of high-end core-logic chipsets-the AMD-751, -752, -755, and -756-for systems that use two or more K7's running in parallel, according to representatives for Taiwan-based chipset maker Via Technologies Inc. Meanwhile, Via will design and supply single-processor chipsets for the higher-volume, "value-oriented" mass market, said Dean Hays, director of marketing for Via's U.S. operations in Fremont, Calif.
Likewise, Acer Laboratories Inc. (ALI) will focus on uniprocessor K7 chipsets. "[We] probably won't be in the multiprocessor market, since our focus is on the mainstream, high-volume market," said Nancy Hartsoch, vice president of sales and marketing for ALI, San Jose.
The K7's EV-6 bus, which AMD licensed from Digital Equipment Corp., is fundamentally different from the Super7 and P6 buses used by Pentium- and Pentium II-class processors. In selecting a unique microprocessor and bus architecture, AMD has committed itself to designing a true alternative to Intel's chips.
"We're migrating from a microprocessor company to a [computing]-platform company," said a spokesman for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD.
This has forced AMD to take its relationship with its chipset suppliers to a new level. When Intel abandoned the Socket 7 Pentium market for the Pentium II microprocessor and its Slot 1 connector, only Acer, Silicon Integrated Systems (SIS), Via, and some smaller chipset companies were left to provide core logic for AMD's K6 and its successors. Intel, meanwhile, held onto its P6 patent technology with a tight grip, only recently licensing Via, SIS, and S3 to use the bus. Acer is still negotiating a license.
Had Intel recruited suppliers such as Via to produce the Slot 1 chipsets, AMD would have been left in a precarious position, Via's Hays said. But sticking with AMD has paid off for all parties: As AMD's microprocessor market share has grown, so has revenue for the supporting logic.
Offered the opportunity to manufacture a K7 chipset, Hays said Via enthusiastically agreed. A day later, three AMD engineers showed up at Hays' doorstep in Fremont, ready to begin work. Although the companies have worked closely together, Hays estimated that Via's ability to ship a K7 chipset would be about a month behind AMD. ALI will also ship a K7 chipset later in the year, Hartsoch said.
An AMD representative declined to comment on specific details concerning the company's chipset plans or its relationships with partners. AMD had originally posted the names of the new K7 chipsets on its Web site to display their Year 2000 compliance, but later removed them. An AMD spokesman confirmed that all four chipsets are designed for the K7.
The EV-6 bus runs at 200 MHz-twice as fast as both the 100-MHz Super7 bus used in Socket 7 systems and Intel's own 100-MHz P6 bus. With the delayed release of the Camino, or Intel 820, chipset in September, Intel will probably increase the P6 bus speed to 133 MHz.
Hays said no technical reason precludes the Super7 bus from being increased to 133 MHz. But AMD's engineers have been restricted to improving the K6-III and finalizing the K7, Hays said, and the two sides have not met to hammer out a design specification. AMD's K7 will be released at 500, 550, and 600 MHz, according to an AMD spokesman, although industry sources close to the company noted that only limited quantities of the 500-MHz version would be manufactured.
While AMD has not publicly made any overtures to license the EV-6 bus as a true alternative to Intel's P6 technology, Hays said he hopes AMD can fulfill its promise to deliver a competitive platform and processor.
"I think it would be wonderful to shift the whole [Super7] infrastructure to something the market could rally around," he said.