Advanced Micro Devices Inc. may have been a non-factor in the notebook computer race so far, but this quarter the company is finally going to bust out of the starting gate riding its Palomino notebook PC processor.
Sources with knowledge of the new chip claim it will have the industry's highest mobile processor clock rate and a 4.2Gbit/s memory speed, exceeding even the fastest desktop PC on the market today.
Details of Palomino leaked to EBN describe a chip with a clock rate of 1.3 to 1.4GHz, supported by double-channel PC2100 memory modules with 4.2Gbit/s data rates.
Palomino, which succeeds the Thunderbird version of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD's top-of-the-line Athlon MPU, will make its market debut in notebook PCs, with desktop versions expected to follow in the third quarter.
Although Palomino can be supported by several third-party chipsets, the launch will feature a new Nvidia Corp. integrated north bridge memory controller/graphics processor-the same single-chip design Nvidia is using for the upcoming Microsoft Corp. X-Box electronic game console.
Nvidia will also supply the same streaming-audio south bridge chip that it is producing for X-Box. The Nvidia core-logic controller approach will use the 128-bit graphics bus to interface with Palomino as well-two times larger than any memory bus line connecting with any existing PC processor today, sources noted.
Both AMD and Nvidia spokespersons failed to respond to inquiries regarding the Palomino notebook features.
AMD has previously announced that Palomino will use a new PowerNow voltage management technique to allow a notebook to run the processor at a heat level acceptable for mobile use, as well as to preserve battery life. The current Athlon cores are considered too power hungry and create thermal problems for mobile use- and they have never been used in notebooks.
In fact, with the exception of some low-end units, AMD has been virtually absent from the notebook market, according to Alan Promisel, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass.
"Their focus has been on commercial desktops," he said. "They're just now realizing the notebook market is delivering higher growth potential than the desktop."
Transmeta Corp.'s recent success in snaring notebook designs may have helped encourage AMD to jump into that market, he added.
As for AMD's chances of success, Promisel believes there "definitely is some potential take-away market share from Intel and Transmeta. It will be pretty difficult for AMD to duplicate the kind of share it has on the desktop, but they have proven they can accomplish quite a bit with their marketing and technology."
Intel Corp. this quarter will hit the track with its upgraded Pentium III Tualatin notebook processor, which is expected to debut with a 1.16 to 1.26GHz clock rate. Without a double-data-rate chipset of its own, the Santa Clara, Calif., company is depending on third-party vendors to support Tualatin with DDR memory.
It wasn't known if Intel is planning a double-memory-channel version of Tualatin, which could match the Palomino's data rate.
Indeed, Nvidia has said it is developing high-performance chipsets for Intel PCs, and some industry sources believe the graphics company will have a similar integrated core-logic approach for the Intel architecture as well. Nvidia will have developed such interfaces for Intel processors, since its X-Box chips support an Intel Pentium III MPU.
Intel's desktop Pentium 4 now has dual memory channels of Direct Rambus modules for a 3.2GHz memory bandwidth or data rate, currently the fastest available in high-performance desktop PCs.
Additional reporting by Robert Ristelhueber