Cyrix introduces MMX chip

The 6x86MX will be a fast but cheap weapon in Cyrix's assault on the traditional processor pricing structure.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read
Cyrix (CYRX) introduced its first MMX-capable processor today, hoping to turn heads by offering a high-speed chip at a low price.

The Cyrix 6x86MX, previously known under the code name M2, is similar in performance to Intel's faster MMX Pentium and newly introduced Pentium II processors.

But the price is decidedly different: The bulk of the Cyrix chips will be targeted for sub-$1,500 computers. Currently, Intel's high-end Pentium and Pentium II processors are found in systems above $2,000 and more often above $2,500.

Even Advanced Micro Devices' K6 processor, considered a low-price leader at $460 for the 233-MHz version, costs significantly more than Cyrix's new high-end 6x86MX, which is priced at $320. Intel's 233-MHz Pentium II is priced at about $600.

At the low end, Cyrix will price the 6x86MX, with a rating which is equivalent to a speed of 166 MHz, at $190 for systems at the $1,000 level. The company's primary target markets are consumer PCs and computers for small businesses.

Analysts say this chip is crucial for Cyrix to stay competitive. "They need MMX and the higher performance in order to stay in the race," said Michael Slater, publisher of the Microprocessor Report, an industry newsletter.

MMX is a technology for speeding up multimedia applications such as audio, video, and communications.

IBM will also sell the 6x86MX chip, based on an agreement with Cyrix. Much of this agreement is predicated on the fact that IBM manufactures the 6x86MX for Cyrix. Cyrix does not own manufacturing facilities.

Cyrix rates its processors based on a "PR" rating, not on megahertz as AMD and Intel do. The company does this because it believes it has a better design for its chip, whose performance is not accurately reflected in a megahertz-only rating.

"It's a significantly superior architecture. We're not going to give that away [to Intel]," said Steve Tobak, a vice president at Cyrix. The megahertz rating, or "clock speed," for the Cyrix processors, is slower than the PR rating. So a PR233 Cyrix chip, which the company claims is as fast as a 233-MHz Intel Pentium II, will run at a clock speed slower than that level.

Cyrix admits that this causes confusion among some customers who have become used to gauging the performance of chips based on megahertz ratings. But the company believes its PR rating approach will win out.

IBM says the lower megahertz speeds are an advantage, reducing power consumption and heat, making the chips more energy-efficient and more reliable, respectively.

Cyrix has speeded up the chip by quadrupling the amount of on-chip cache memory that was on the original 6x86. It has also tweaked the processor to boost 32-bit performance to twice that of the older 6x86.

Cyrix hopes to make the 6x86MX more of a success than the original 6x86, which hit the market without an infrastructure in place to move the chip quickly into systems. It was also priced too high, Tobak added.

CTX will be the first computer maker to use the chip and will market systems in retail stores.

Cyrix expects to ship tens of thousands of the 6x86MX chips in June and to increase this to the hundreds of thousands in the third quarter. By the end of the year, the company expects to have shipped about 1 million of the processors, according to Tobak.

The company also expects to introduce a version rated at 266 in the fourth quarter and 300 in the first quarter of next year.

Cyrix will also beef up its MediaGX line of highly integrated Pentium-class processors now being used in Compaq's Presario 2000 consumer PCs. It will release 166 and 180 versions of the MediaGX in the third quarter and by the fourth quarter offer a MediaGX processor with MMX technology rated at 200.