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Commentary: AMD knows what's in a name

It doesn't seem like much, but Gartner says naming the second generation of Athlon microprocessors "Athlon 4" could give Advanced Micro Devices a boost against rival Intel.

By Mark Margevicius, Gartner Analyst

It doesn't seem like much, but naming the second generation of Athlon microprocessors "Athlon 4" could give Advanced Micro Devices a boost against rival Intel.

See news story:
AMD revs mobile chips up to 1GHz
And AMD needs all the help it can get. The size and strength of Intel in the market represents its greatest barrier to growth. AMD has therefore consistently looked for ways to put some marketing space between itself and Intel. Many of its moves represent style more than substance--for example, beating Intel past the 1GHz speed mark.

The naming of Athlon 4--clearly echoing Pentium 4, which Intel has announced but not shipped in quantity--seems even less substantial. AMD will not get high grades for marketing creativity. However, the company may benefit more than many people think because the move co-opts some of the hype generated by Intel's own marketing machine. The Athlon 4 name says, "AMD can play this game, too."

Still more significant, AMD has announced that the first Athlon 4 chips will appear in notebooks rather than in desktop computers. AMD believes it has a better chance against Intel in notebooks than on the desktop, and Gartner concurs because Intel's next-generation mobile processor is still several months away. With a power requirement of 20 watts, Athlon 4 is best suited to the desktop-replacement class of notebooks, which traditionally weigh around 7 pounds. Thus, AMD will increase its mind share by beating its rival to the punch in next-generation technology for notebooks.

In the end, however, AMD will still find itself having to play the role of giant-killer. AMD does well in the consumer market, but it will not seriously threaten Intel until it can crack the enterprise market as well. To date, no major manufacturer--notably, Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard or IBM--has put Athlon chips into its PCs for corporate customers. Getting the big PC makers to use Athlon remains AMD's biggest challenge.

(For related commentary on determining whether a 1GHz processor really makes sense, see registration required.)

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