Budget Athlon 64 Debuts

AMD also releases another Athlon aimed at gamers.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is fueling the expansion of its 64-bit processor line with the Athlon 64 3000+, a budget version of its desktop chip.

The Athlon 64 3000+ has the same frequency as the 3200+, which the Sunnyvale, Calif., company launched in September, but it also has a smaller Level 2 cache, according to an AMD spokesman. The 3200+ has a 1MB cache; the 3000+, 512KB. The cache houses memory closer to the chip, making access to it faster and enabling the chip to perform tasks more quickly.

The new chip also comes with a lower price. The 3000+ will be sold at $218 each in 1,000-unit quantities, almost half as much as the 3200+, at $417.

The Athlon 64 was the second wave of AMDs 64-bit chips. Last April, the company released Opteron, its processor targeted at servers and workstations. In September, AMD launched Athlon 64, starting with the 3200+ for desktops and 3000+ for laptops. Both run at 2GHz.

At the same time, AMD also released the Athlon 64 FX-51, a chip running at 2.2GHz that includes a 128-bit, dual-channel memory controller for maximum bandwidth and 1MB of L2 cache. The chip is aimed at gamers and PC enthusiasts.

Like the Opteron, the Athlon 64 family of chips can run 32-bit and 64-bit applications, and AMD initially is positioning them to compete with Intel Corp.s 32-bit Pentium and Xeon lines of processors.

In October, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., released its Pentium 4 Extreme Edition to compete with Athlon 64.

Shane Rau, an analyst with International Data Corp., said that while numbers for the period are not yet available, the fourth quarter of 2003 should be a "decent" one for Athlon 64 sales.

"The signs are there," said Rau, in Mountain View, Calif. "I think there are demands on the consumer side. ... Athlon 64s initial strength is going to come from desktops and [particularly] consumer desktops. Despite the 64 in the name, its got to be a good 32-bit processor to meet the needs of current AMD customers."

Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif., offers the Compaq Presario 8000Z series of desktops featuring the Athlon 64 3200+. Last month, eMachines Inc., of Irvine, Calif., rolled out the T6000 PC, which also features the 3200+.

Rau said AMD should ramp up its mobile Athlon 64 offerings to take advantage of the increasing interest in notebooks, particularly in the growing popularity of thin-and-light laptops.

But it probably wont be until after AMD shifts to its 90-nanometer manufacturing process in the second half of this year that the company will be able to take full advantage of the interest in that category.

However, Rau said he expects that mobile computing will continue to expand into 2005.

"AMD will still take advantage of the mobile wave, but it wouldve been better [for the company to expand its mobile capabilities] in the third quarter of [2003]," Rau said. "AMD needs to extend across all industry markets and maintain a broad portfolio."