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Cyrix rolls out its own MMX chip

In the wake of settling its MMX trademark dispute with Intel, Cyrix is demonstrating its first MMX processor.

SAN FRANCISCO--After settling its MMX trademark dispute with Intel (INTC) last week, Cyrix (CYRX) was free this week to demonstrate its first MMX processor.

Cyrix has been showing a system built around its own MMX-enabled M2 processor at the influential Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here.

The M2 is expected to be officially announced in May or June. Currently, Cyrix is not shipping any MMX-capable processors. The company offers Pentium-class 5x86 and MediaGX processors as well as higher-performance 6x86 processors.

Competition is already heating up in the MMX processor market. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) just announced its MMX-capable K6 last week and Intel is expected to formally announce the MMX-capable Pentium II in May. Intel is already shipping its first generation of MMX Pentium processors.

To try and limit this increasing competition, Intel has been looking to control the use of the acronym "MMX." MMX is a term applied to chip technology that boosts the performance of certain multimedia applications. While Intel wants other chip vendors to use the technology, Intel claims that it has trademarked the actual term MMX and that AMD and Cyrix must attribute it to Intel in advertising and promotional materials.

Intel last week settled a suit with Cyrix that requires the Richardson, Texas-based vendor "to use MMX with the appropriate attribution," Intel said. Intel lost a separate court battle, however, with AMD, which does not have to attribute the term to Intel. AMD formerly introduced its K6 MMX processor the day after the court decision was announced.

Although Cyrix and AMD fought hard to deny Intel its trademark, whether this marketing technicality makes a difference is still to be determined. The real bottomline in any kind of chip competition is still performance.

The Cyrix MMX M2 being demonstrated at WinHEC is "rated" at 233, according to sources close to the company. This means that the chip offers roughly the same performance as a 233-MHz Pentium II or K6 processor. Actual real-world performance is not clear yet.

By comparison, AMD's fastest K6 runs at 233 MHz and should get up to 300 MHz before the end of the year. Intel's Pentium II is expected to run as fast as 266 MHz initially and possibly 300 MHz before the end of the year.

The Cyrix M2 chip is expected to find its way into systems priced between $1,500 and $2,500, according to sources.

"It's a good design, though it probably won't run MMX as fast as the Pentium II," said Martin Reynolds, a chip analyst at market research firm Dataquest.

Some analysts think there is room for all vendors in the MMX chip market. Mike Feibus, an analyst at Scottsdale, Arizona-based Mercury Research, added: "The MMX market is a good market for the alternative processor vendors. That's the most important thing. Whether [the M2] is a little bit slower or a little bit faster is really irrelevant."

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.