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AMD to saddle up Sempron on Wednesday

Advanced Micro Devices to ride new low-price chip back into market for inexpensive PCs.

AMD will detail on Wednesday its plans to go after the low-price PC market again, when it unveils its first Sempron-brand processors.

The chipmaker, which created the Sempron brand earlier this summer with the low-price PC market in mind, will begin offering a dozen Semprons, including eight processor models for desktops and four models for notebooks, on Wednesday. The chips which will sell for as little as $39 in 1,000 unit lots and will begin showing up in systems from brand-name PC makers in time for the holiday season, an AMD executive said.

The Semprons will all cost less than $135 at the outset, meaning they'll cost less than the AMD Athlon XP and, in many cases, sell for less than Intel's low-price Celeron PC processor. The pricing scheme reflects AMD's intent to move further into the low-price PC market, where desktops sell for $549 or less and notebooks sell for $999 or less, the company has said.

AMD wasn't willing to address the entire PC market with the Athlon XP, because it was intent on preserving Athlon as a performance brand in customers' minds, said John Morris, manager of desktop product marketing for the chipmaker's Computation Products Divison.

"If you look at the brand promise of the Athlon, it's been about performance computing, so we want to make sure that (chips like the) Athlon 64 continue to stand for performance computing," Morris said. Meanwhile, "Sempron reflects a completely different strategy that says, 'There's a growing group of people that have basic computer let's provide a solution for them.'"

To that end, AMD will offer Sempron desktop processor models 2400+, 2500+, 2600+, 2800+ and 3100+ for prices that range from $61 to $126 in 1,000 unit quantities. The two lowest-priced desktop Sempron models, the $39 2200+ and $45 2300+, will be reserved for emerging markets where they will replace the AMD Duron chip, Morris said.

Although the Sempron name is new, the technology behind the chips is proven, Morris said. Desktop Semprons will use the same basic underpinnings as desktop Athlon XP processors, while notebook Semprons will be based on mobile Athlon 64 processors but lack certain features, such as 64-bit addressing.

All of the Sempron chips will run at slower clock speeds and have less cache--a pool of memory that holds data close to the processor core to boost performance--than Athlon XP or mobile Athlon 64 chips, a common method of curbing performance and differentiating them from their upmarket siblings. Desktop Sempron models 2400+ to 2800+, for example, will run at speeds of between 1.67GHz and will have 256KB of level 2 cache, whereas Athlon XP chips, such as the 3200+ run at speeds of up to 2.2GHz and have 512KB of cache.

Despite being limited to low-price PCs at first, Sempron will play a greater role in the future, Morris said. It will ultimately help replace the Athlon XP brand, which will be retired in 2005.

"The ultimate thing we want to do is get back to two brands, one for the performance space in the market, and that is the Athlon 64, and the other for the value-conscious part of the market...and that is the Sempron brand," he said. "Athlon XP for a period of time, in the early part of next year, will be sandwiched in the middle," Morris said.

PC makers such as China's Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard in the United States will be among the first to adopt the Sempron for desktops, Morris said, while Acer and Sharp will be first in notebooks.

"As we move into Q4, we'll see even more (PC makers) come online with Sempron-based systems," Morris said.

AMD is not alone in its interest in the low-end market. Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard have recently released low-price products designed for emerging markets, while Intel is developing similar products.