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Cyrix to take on Pentium II

In the next few weeks, the long-awaited "M2" MMX processor will arrive, rated at speeds of 166, 200, and 233.

Cyrix (CYRX) will announce in the next few weeks its long-awaited MMX processor, intended to compete with the low end of Intel's Pentium II line of chips.

The Cyrix chip, code-named M2, will be introduced at ratings that are equivalent to speeds of 166, 200, and 233 MHz, according to sources close to the company. The chip will compete with Advanced Micro Devices' K6 processors and the slower Pentium II chips.

The K6 is currently shipping at 200 and 233 MHz. AMD has yet to ship its 266-MHz K6 in commercial quantities. The Intel Pentium II is currently shipping in volume; it runs at 233 and 266 MHz, with a limited number of pricey Pentium IIs offered at 300 MHz.

The M2 isn't expected to catch on immediately with top PC vendors, but smaller PC manufacturers may provide an adequate customer base to begin with. "At first, you won't see any top-tier vendors sign on. It's not necessary for their success. If they continue to move up the performance curve a bit, they'll be doing reasonably well. There is a lot of market served by small vendors," said Michael Slater, publisher of the Microprocessor Report. Slater added that Cyrix should continue to gain market share by focusing on current customers.

The M2 will be the successor to the company's current 6x86 processor, which got off to a slow start and has seen only limited commercial success. On the other hand, Cyrix's MediaGX, a highly integrated, inexpensive Pentium-class processor, is seeing more success. It is included in Compaq's $999 Presario 2100 consumer PC.

The M2 is expected to get a performance boost from architectural tweaks designed to let it handle data more efficiently and an increase in the size of the cache memory. Cache memory is integrated into the processor and can feed data to the processor at high speeds.

"It would be significant if they didn't have the M2...they need MMX and the higher performance in order to stay in the race," said Slater.

Slater expects performance to be similar to that of AMD's K6 processor, which exceeds the high end of the Pentium line in integer performance but is less stellar in floating point performance. Integer performance is important mostly for business applications on PCs, while floating point performance is needed for scientific calculations and graphics-intensive applications.

Cyrix settled an MMX trademark dispute with Intel in early April paving the way for Cyrix to call its chips MMX-compatible.