The widely anticipated processor from Advanced Micro Devices will not come to market as the K7, according to sources close to the company, but as "Athlon," echoing Intel's strategy of giving processors names that sound like galactic warriors or chemical additives. This could change, but for now it appears that AMD is heading for a branding scheme.
Whatever name AMD chooses, the K7 is shaping up to be a breakout product for AMD that could give the company the upper hand in the processor performance race and help it return to profitability.
The processor, according to observers, appears to be shaping up to be a winner. The K7 is based around a new, souped-up architecture that promises, ideally, to offer better performance than similar Intel chips running at the same clock speed. The K7 is expected to come out at 500 MHz, 550 MHz, and 600 MHz.
"It smokes," said one person who has run a K7 computer. "This opens up an opportunity for AMD on a competitive basis,"
AMD is also benefiting from Intel miscues and the PC product calendar. Volume production of the K7/Athlon has been pushed to around August, according to sources. However, Intel confirmed yesterday that its competing "Coppermine" Pentium III has been pushed to November. (See related story.) In the end, this means that K7/Athlon PCs will be around for fall and the holidays, while Coppermine systems may not appear in numbers until next year.
"A delay in Coppermine helps AMD," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64.
The big question on everybody's mind is whether AMD, which has a long history of manufacturing miscues, will be able to produce enough chips at adequately fast speeds to take advantage of the situation. Shortfalls on the K6 and K6-2 chips in previous quarters resulted in losses.
"The K7 is likely to dramatically affect profitability and pricing at the high end," said A.A. "Tad" La Fountain, an analyst at Needham & Co., who predicted 1.35 million K7s would ship by the end of the year. La Fountain currently rates AMD as a "strong buy" and Intel as a "hold."
Benchmarks recently released by AMD show that the chip will outperform the Xeon and Pentium III processors on select benchmark tests, including tests for 3D processing. While AMD's benchmark tests are obviously tweaked to favor the K7, the initial tests indicate that the chip will be at least as fast as the Pentium III, according to a recently published report from Michael Slater, founder of MicroDesign Resources.
"The K7 will be no laggard in floating point and multimedia performance," he wrote.
A search on Yahoo revealed that "Athlon" is also the name of a Pennsylvania company that makes exercise equipment while "Athlone" is the name of an elementary school in Winnipeg, Canada. By contrast, "Celeron" turned out to be the name of French explorer, a Brazilian laminate, and the name of the New York town where Lucille Ball was born.