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300-MHz K6 to spur low-cost laptops

AMD matches Intel's top-speed portable chip--at a much lower price--which should advance the slow but steady march toward low-priced notebooks.

Advanced Micro Devices today released a 300-MHz version of its K6 processor for notebooks, a move that should advance the slow but steady march toward low-priced portables.

The 300-MHz K6 chip itself won't actually find its way into sub-$1,500 notebooks at this stage, but it will serve a larger trend toward lower notebook prices, said Dave Somo, director of product marketing at AMD. Selling for $229 in volume quantities, the chip will be found in portables ranging from $1,999 to $2,500.

"Just like there was a sub-$1,000 computer, there will be a sub-$1,500 notebook," Somo said. "The desktop market is very competitive and they [computer makers] see incremental revenue in notebooks."

At $229, the 300-MHz K6 will cost hundreds of dollars less than Intel's top portable chip, the 300-MHz Pentium II. That processor, introduced earlier this month, carries a starting list prices of $637.

Compaq Computer will incorporate the 300-MHz K6 into a Presario notebook to be released in the fourth quarter, AMD said, while others will follow. Just as importantly, the new chip will drive down prices on 233-MHz and 266-MHz notebooks. That AMD's new chip rivals the speed of Intel fastest notebook product is unprecedented, because typically AMD lags by one or two speed grades behind Intel chips. The chip also consumes roughly the same amount of power as mobile Pentium IIs, an important consideration for battery life, Somo added.

But despite matching Intel in speed, the chip is not the latest generation of AMD processors. It is a plain vanilla K6 processor, not the more advanced K6-2 design that is used widely in desktop PCs.

Among other differences, K6-2 chips can perform better on certain graphics applications. Generally, K6 chips have been compared to the previous generation of Pentium MMX chips.

Nonetheless, AMD has a fairly aggressive road map in place for future mobile processors. The more advanced K6-2 processors for notebooks will come out in the first half of 1999. The future K6-2 notebook chips will also contain the 100-MHz system "bus," allowing data to be shuttled between the memory and processor at higher speeds. Current K6 chips use a slower 66-MHz system bus.

These will then be followed by K6-3 chips, which will contain 256K of integrated secondary cache memory, which will significantly boost processor performance, Somo added. For its part, Intel will release integrated versions of its Celeron chip for notebooks in the first quarter of 1999.

"Notebook prices are going to come down, but there still is a little bit more of a margin opportunity there," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.