Athlon XP Running Out of Steam?

AMD's delayed chip release fueled some speculation that the Athlon XP may be running out of steam.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on Tuesday announced two faster Athlon processors, but said the chips wont be available until late November, fueling speculation that the early unveiling was spurred by growing pressure from rival Intel Corp., which is set to release a 3GHz Pentium 4 in the coming weeks.

In the past year, Intel has accelerated its release of faster processors, putting increasing pressure on AMD to boost the performance of its processors. But industry analysts contend the Athlon XP architecture—the Athlon XP 2800+ and 2700+ were announced Tuesday—is running out of head room and that AMD is finding it difficult to increase its performance.

"Theres some flag waving going on, here, with AMD contending they can still push up their speeds," said Mike Feibus, an analyst for TechKnowledge Strategies Inc., in Scottsdale, Ariz. "But Intel is able to push up the clock rate on the Pentium 4 almost at will right now, and the general perception has been that Athlon XP is running out of steam."

In contrast to previous processor releases, in which AMD often announced immediate and widespread availability of its newest products, the chip maker on Tuesday emphasized its top performing 2800+ will be offered only in "limited edition desktop systems targeted at PC enthusiasts and gamers" in late November, indicating that non-OEM orders wont be filled until December.

The first PC makers scheduled to offer the 2800+ in November are ABS Computer Technologies Inc., Alienware Corp., Falcon Northwest, MicronPC LLC and Voodoo Computers Ltd.

Hewlett-Packard Co., the largest PC maker currently using AMD chips, was not included in the list of companies planning to offer the new processors.

Earlier this year, AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., had been touting that the fourth-quarter release of it first 64-bit processor, codenamed Clawhammer, would give it a competitive edge against Intel. However, two weeks ago the AMD disclosed that the new product wont begin shipping until the end of the first quarter in 2003, and wont be appear in PCs from computer makers until the second quarter.

Clawhammers delay and the apparent limited availability of the companys fastest Athlon XPs through the end of the year may undermine AMDs sales during the holiday season, which traditionally accounts for the companys highest revenues of the year.

AMD contends its 2800+ will offer data throughput gains of up to 25 percent over its current speed leader, the 2600+. That is due in large part to the faster 333MHz front side bus featured on both the 2800+ and 2700+, an increase over the 266MHz FSB found on current high-end Athlon XPs.

"The AMD Athlon XP processor 2800+ with its advanced 333 FSB is the ultimate processor for PC customers who demand the highest levels of performance," said Ed Ellett, vice president of client business at AMD.

AMDs 2800+ and 2700+ will be priced at $397 and $349, respectively, according to AMD.

In keeping with its effort to eliminate gigahertz-to-gigahertz comparisons between Athlon XPs and Pentium 4s, AMD did not release the frequencies at which its newest chips operate. In general, AMD contends is 2800+ operates as fast as a 2.8GHz processor, although the chips actual clock rate is speculated to run at slightly more than 2.GHz.

Intels fastest processor on the market presently is a 2.8GHz Pentium 4, but the chip maker has announced it will release a 3GHz version of the chip in time for the holidays.