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AMD delays 64-bit Athlon chip

The chipmaker pushes back its Athlon 64 processor for PCs to September but confirms the April launch of Opteron for servers.

Advanced Micro Devices confirmed on Friday that it has pushed back the introduction of its Athlon 64 processor for desktop PCs.

AMD, which had originally been expected to introduce the chip in March or April, now plans to launch it in September, simultaneously with a notebook version of the chip, a company representative said. Earlier this month, the company said that it was re-evaluating the launch date for the chip.

The company has indicated that its priority is the new 64-bit Opteron processor for servers. That chip will be the keystone of AMD's 2003 strategy to push further into the business market and compete with Intel. Opteron, in keeping with the company's original launch date, is set to officially debut on April 22 in New York City.

After two and a half years of fairly flawless manufacturing, AMD found itself once again mired in delays in 2002. A number of its Athlon chips were subject to delays last year. Athlon 64, originally slated for the end of 2001, was set to come out at the end of last year, but in September the company pushed it back to the first quarter of 2003.

Intel has been able to capitalize on many of these delays and regain market share by cutting prices and boosting performance of its chips.

Dirk Meyer, senior vice president of computational products at AMD, discounted that the company was having trouble finalizing the Athlon 64 architecture. New chips are always subject to delays, he noted, an assertion backed up by semiconductor history.

Meanwhile, AMD will try to keep desktop customers happy with a new Athlon XP chip. The chipmaker, as expected, is scheduled to introduce an Athlon XP 3000+ processor on Feb. 10. It plans to have a 3200+ chip by the middle of the year.

AMD plans to disclose the clock speed and pricing for the chip 3000+ at launch. The Athlon XP rating number indicates its performance in comparison with a previous version of the Athlon chip. However, the model number is also designed to reflect that the chip performs as well or better than a corresponding Intel Pentium 4. The 3000+ chip, therefore, is equivalent to a 3.06GHz Pentium 4, AMD would assert.

The 3000+ chip will be AMD's first processor based on its new "Barton" core, which adds a larger 512KB cache and supports a faster bus. These features increase performance by holding larger amounts data close to the processor core and speeding up the pathway for data transfer to and from the chip. That extra performance is what allowed AMD to boost the model's rating number.

While AMD's current line of Athlon XP chips will continue on for some time, the company said that its priority will be its 64-bit chips.

"AMD believes the future of computing, from high-end servers to mainstream desktop and notebook PCs, will be based on pervasive 64-bit computing. We expect to work with our customers and partners to bring the benefits of 64-bit computing to end-users worldwide," said Rob Herb, chief sales and marketing officer at AMD.

But there is such a thing as moving too quickly. By moving back the launch date for its Athlon 64, AMD says software developers will have more time to create software for the chip.

The new September date will "allow us to better align the processor with the availability with 64-bit OSes and software applications," an AMD spokesperson said.

A number of developers are creating software for AMD's 64-bit chips. Microsoft, for one, is working on operating systems for both desktops and servers. But so far, the bulk of the software development effort has been aimed at server applications.

AMD expects to see widespread availability of Athlon 64 desktops and notebooks at launch.

The Opteron and Athlon 64 chips are both based on a new technology AMD calls x86-64. The company added new instructions to the current x86 processor architecture that extend the chip to address 64 bits of data.

One of the main advances of the move to 64 bits is that it lets computers such as servers support much larger amounts of memory than current AMD Athlon chips, which address only 32 bits of data. Thanks to the extra memory, a server can decrease access times for data by minimizing its need to seek out that data on a hard drive.

Between the 64-bit Opteron chip and its Athlon 64, AMD will tout itself as the only chipmaker to offer a broad enough range of chips that let customers deliver 64-bit notebooks and desktop PCs, as well as entry-level, midrange and high-end servers.