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Cyrix chip to add MMX

The Cyrix MediaGX chip's high capacity for integration with other features is something Intel doesn't offer the low-cost PC market.

Cyrix (CYRX) will quickly move to boost the performance of its new MediaGX processor by adding MMX technology and increasing its running speed. In the process, the company may be pointing the way to a new category of low-end Intel-compatible processors.

The new Cyrix processor is currently being used in Compaq's just-released low-cost Presario 2100 consumer PC. The MediaGX's novel design takes a standard Intel-compatible microprocessor and integrates additional functions such as a graphics chip, which is usually external to the main processor. This high level of integration allows PC vendors such as Compaq to design very low-cost consumer PCs.

The critical point is that Compaq chose Cyrix because Intel doesn't have a competitive offering--and Cyrix intends to quickly strike again at this chink in Intel's armor.

Cyrix's plan calls for bringing out a next-generation "GXm" processor later this year. The GXm will boost the speed from the current 133 MHz to 200 MHz and make it fully compatible with MMX, Intel's technology for speeding up multimedia applications such as graphics, video, and communications.

But Cyrix is not merely matching the capabilities of Intel chips by moving to MMX. It is bolting MMX onto a radically redesigned chip that may already be fundamentally more significant than MMX for consumers looking to buy fairly high-performance PCs at prices that fall below $1,000.

Indeed, Intel will continue to define the midrange and high end of the personal computer market since the "demand for computing power is, in effect, insatiable," as Dataquest asserts in a recent report.

But Cyrix has an opportunity here to redefine the low-end consumer PC, a market that Intel is loath to tackle head-on since low-priced processors do not generate the large profits that Intel needs to drive its business model. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

For the time being, Cyrix will try to push its MediaGX processors into systems that are priced even lower than the Compaq 2100. If a vendor chooses to bring out a MediaGX-based system with a 1GB hard disk drive (instead the 2GB drive in the Presario 2100) and 16MB of memory (instead of the 24MB in the Presario), and knock off another frill or two, the market could well see a system with a monitor priced significantly below $1,000, according to Steve Tobak, a vice president at Cyrix.