Details Emerge on Plans for AMDs Athlon 64 Chips

Rumors flew about availability of AMD's new processor following its introduction, and Fujitsu revealed more of its plans for the chip. The next day, technical documents offered a peek at future versions.

The dust hadnt settled following Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s launch of its new Athlon 64 chip earlier this week, when online reports began to circulate about its availability. Analysts and OEM system vendors werent troubled by the rumors, and Fujitsu Ltd. offered a glimpse into its plans for the processor.

Meanwhile, AMD is already looking ahead, accidentally tipping off future Athlon 64 product plans in technical documents contained on its web site.

In the hours following the launch of the Athlon 64, reports circulated that between 100,000 and 500,000 chips were available on the open market.

However, the consensus of analysts and OEM customers seems to be that for now, AMD has made only a small number of processors available to customers, and an even smaller number of the Athlon 64 FX chip. At the same time, the company clearly communicated these facts to its customers, who planned accordingly.

"I havent seen any indication at all that customers are disappointed with this situation," said Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research Inc.

Last week, AMDs strategic initiatives manager Hal Speed said that AMD hoped to have one high-volume OEM per geographic region by the time the company launched the product on Tuesday. Hewlett-Packard Co. will concentrate on the Americas with desktops and later notebooks based on the Athlon 64; Fujitsu PC Corp. will offer notebooks based on the Athlon 64 in Japan, executives said. Meanwhile, Fujitsu-Siemens Computers and NEC Computers Internationals Packard Bell division will produce systems for the European market.

On Wednesday, HP executives said that the company didnt anticipate any supply issues with the chip. HP will deploy the Athlon 64 in configure-to-order desktops through the end of the year, then launch selected HP Pavilion and Compaq Presario notebooks in the second and third quarters of 2004. Unfortunately, AMD released the chip after HP had already planned its fall PC lineup, once HP source said.

In a statement, John Romano, senior vice president of HPs consumer desktop business, said: "We have confidence in AMD providing whats necessary for the needs HP will have when our products begin shipping later this year."

To one Wall Street analyst, the Athlon 64 looks to be a 2004 product. "AMD has implied that the volume ramp is really next year," said Hans Mosesmann, an analyst with Soundview Technology Group. "The chip is big and even with decent yields a normal ramp wont have them hitting the 1 million plus per quarter levels until Q2, [while] 90-nanometer will help in the second half of 2004. The hard-to-get aspect of Athlon 64 may actually help the brand establish higher ASPs [average selling prices] for the family, longer term."

Meanwhile, other vendors offered a glimpse into their plans for AMDs new 64-bit processors.

Fujitsu Ltd. plans to offer Athlon 64-based notebooks in Japan sometime after the turn of the year, according to Tom Bernhard, director of strategic product planning for Fujitsu PC Corp., Fujitsus U.S. PC division. He declined to provide any specifics of its forthcoming models.

Bernhard said the company has no plans to offer a notebook in the U.S. In that geographic, designing a full-size notebook and competing against HP or another OEM "is just a dollar market, and we dont choose to play in that segment," he said.

According to Bernhard, U.S. customers place a higher value on the Intel Pentium brand, leading to a heavy discounting of AMD-based products. Japanese purchasers place AMD and Intel on a more equal footing, he said.

"The Pentium doesnt have a perceived value in the Japanese market as highly as it does here," Bernhard said. "From a margin standpoint, it allows us to market it closer to its real value as perceived."

Dealers in the reseller channel began selling both the Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX for just slight premiums the day after the launch. AMD officially offers the Athlon 64 for $417 in 10,000-unit lots; on Wednesday, dealers began selling the chip for between $445 and $480.

Meanwhile, AMD revealed a bit of planning for upgrades to the Athlon 64, particularly for future low-power versions of the chip that customers will be able to use in so-called "thin-and-light" notebooks.

A thermal design guide for developers on AMDs site disclosed that the company plans to ship a 2.2GHz, "3400+" version of the desktop Athlon 64, as well as a slower 1.6GHz, "2700+" version for "desktop replacement" notebooks. Currently, AMD has announced a 3200+ Athlon 64 for the desktop, and 3000+ and 3200+ models for the desktop-replacement notebook market.

In the first quarter of 2004, however, AMD officials recently said they expect to ship the first "true" mobile Athlon 64s. According to the technical documents, the "2800+" and "3000+" Athlon 64s will actually run at 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz. When running at maximum power, both chips will dissipate 62 watts at 1.4V, dropping to 13 watts on battery power. When powered by a battery, the notebooks will run at 800MHz.

AMD declined to disclose its estimated ship dates or prices for the new chips.

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