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AMD names low-end processor Duron

Advanced Micro Devices selects a name for its upcoming low-end processor, and now the debate is shifting to how much the chip will actually cost.

Advanced Micro Devices has named its upcoming low-end processor Duron, and now the debate has shifted to how much the chip will actually cost.

In its shareholders' meeting in New York City, AMD announced that Spitfire, the code name for a low-cost version of its Athlon chip, will be called Duron when it hits the market in June. The chip, a competitor to Intel's Celeron processor, will go into sub-$1,000 PCs and effectively replace AMD's K6-2 line.

Like Intel, AMD decided to dip into the space-age gladiator name bag for this one. Duron derives from a Latin word, "durare," which means "to last."

The chip will differ from existing Athlons in a couple of ways. First, the chip will come in a "socket" package rather than the relatively large "slot" package that houses current Athlons. The slot package, which comes with a sizable amount of plastic molding, is more expensive to manufacture than the socket package.

Second, the chip will contain 128KB of integrated secondary cache, a small reservoir of memory located near the processor for quick data access, according to sources. Current Athlons come with 512KB of secondary cache, but because it's located on separate chips, it can't operate as fast as integrated cache and costs more to manufacture.

"The cost of producing the socketed Spitfire is substantially less than producing our current products," CEO Jerry Sanders said earlier this month.

The design of the chip, however, could bring up questions on how well its cost will compete with Intel's Celeron. The two chip lines will likely run at comparable speeds, although AMD will likely be able to tout some performance features, such as faster communications between the chip and the rest of the computer.

The Celeron measures 106 square millimeters, according to company documents. Current Athlon chips, without integrated caches, measure 102 square millimeters. The Duron likely will contain enough silicon to incorporate 256KB of secondary cache. That will increase the size of the chip, possibly past 125 square millimeters.

The larger the chips become, the more expensive they are to produce. Chip manufacturers can't get as many processors out of each wafer. Each chip, of course, also takes up more silicon. Lower-cost chips are typically more popular with PC makers and consumers than more expensive ones.

Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, said that the size differences will likely wash out in the end. Nonetheless, other analysts have said that a final determination on any cost differences between the two chips can't be settled until the chip's dimensions are known.

In any event, AMD will have to likely watch expenses or be able to tout performance features.

"If you are going to compete with Intel, you have to deliver more product for the same price, or the same product for less money," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64.