Competition in the market for low-cost PCs will soon intensify as Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. ready faster versions of their value microprocessors.
Intel will spearhead its attack by bringing its Pentium 4 Willamette processor core to the Celeron line this quarter. This will allow Intel to continue the Celeron's clock frequency upswing from 1.3GHz to a range of 1.4 to 1.6GHz and even higher, according to Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at InSight64 Inc., Saratoga, Calif.
"The P3 Celeron core has reached its upper clock speed limit. By using the P4 NetBurst architecture of the original Willamette core, Intel can extend Celeron frequencies ever higher," Brookwood said.
Intel acknowledged that it will continue to increase the performance of its Celeron line, but declined to elaborate.
AMD, meanwhile, confirmed that it will fight back by extending its performance model numbering scheme to its value-end Duron line. Sources agreed that AMD will push frequencies up a notch when the company introduces its first 0.13-micron Appaloosa and Thoroughbred cores this quarter for the Duron and Athlon processors, respectively.
However, the Appaloosa shrink will only result in a modest frequency increase, and the unchanged core and 266MHz frontside bus (FSB) won't increase performance by much, according to Kevin Krewell, an analyst at MicroDesign Resources, San Jose.
"The basic Duron core doesn't change, so AMD will be slipping ever further behind Intel's new higher-speed Celeron Willamette processors," Krewell said. "They will respond the same way they attacked the basic Pentium 4's higher clock speeds-by emphasizing the Duron's performance level at a lower processor frequency."
The one advantage AMD gets from its upcoming 0.13-micron Appaloosa die shrink is lower production cost by yielding more chips per wafer. At 106 sq. mm, the current Duron processor is already smaller than Intel's Celeron, and the shrink will make the differential even greater.
Brookwood pointed out that Intel's new Willamette Celeron chip, at 234 sq. mm, is larger than the P3 processor it replaces. "Ironically, it also makes the Celeron value processor considerably larger than the new [mainstream] Pentium 4 Northwood processor, which is 145 sq. mm," he said.
The value PC isn't the only battle expected this quarter between the two rivals. Analysts said Intel this quarter is expected to increase its quad-pumped P4 processor FSB from 400 to 533MHz, and upgrade its separate double-data-rate and Rambus DRAM chipsets to support the higher-speed FSB. Brookwood expected the 533-MHz FSB to give the P4 another 3% to 5% boost in performance.
By contrast, AMD shows no signs of increasing its Athlon FSB beyond the 266MHz level, where it has remained for several years. The company said the Athlon and Duron will continue to exceed Intel in performance despite its competitor's higher speed grades.
"AMD seems to be waiting on their new Hammer family of processors coming late this year," Krewell said. "The Hammer series will have the memory controller on the processor die using the HyperTransport interface, eliminating the FSB."
AMD last week also opened a new front against Intel in the handheld Internet appliance market, by introducing the first mobile processor from its recent acquisition of Alchemy Semiconductor. The new Au1100 MIPS-based processor directly confronts Intel's StrongArm and XScale processors.
The Au1100 has a clock speed of 400MHz at 250mW or 500MHz at 500mW. The SoC includes the controller for the LCD, USB interface, integrated 10/100 Ethernet interface for LAN connection, and infrared data transfer interface. The 400MHz version is $29.50 in 10,000s.