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AMD guns for Intel with K6

The company ships the K6, aimed at Intel's Pentium II, and will quickly bring out low-power processors for notebook PCs.

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
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is going after Intel (INTC) with both barrels blazing.

The company formally announced Wednesday its long-awaited K6 MMX processors, one day after Intel lost its court battle to stop the company from using "MMX" in the product's name.

AMD unveiled the K6 MMX processor family for desktop PCs at speeds of 166, 200, and 233 MHz. The company expects to soon ratchet up that speed to 300 MHz and add mobile versions of the chip to run inside notebook PCs, according to Vin Dham, a vice president at the company.

AMD has struggled valiantly to take a piece of Intel's processor market for years. Now, the company believes that it has, however briefly, the upper hand in performance over Intel's Pentium and Pentium Pro processors.

"We believe we can do 30 percent of the unit volume of the Windows-compatible processor market," said W.J. Sanders III, AMD's chairman and CEO. Analysts, however, say this will likely be closer to 15 percent.

The company said it will be making an announcement "very soon" about a K6 processor designed for notebook processors, currently an Intel Achilles heel. Historically, Intel hasn't been as aggressive in developing processors for the notebook PC market as it has been in developing processors for desktop and server computers, providing a market opportunity for competing chip vendors.

The notebook PC market accounted for about 17 percent of all PCs shipped last year, according to research firm International Data Corporation. AMD thinks that, if it can offer a real performance advantage, it will be able to chip away at Intel's market share here.

The AMD K6 processor is now more or less ready for use in notebook PCs at a speed of 166 MHz, Dham said. But he added that AMD wants to have "mobile" K6 processors that can run as fast as 200 MHz, a goal that will require a little more work.

The fastest chip Intel offers for notebook PCs is a 166-MHz Pentium processor.

AMD will also push hard to speed desktop processor performance. The company says it will roll out a 266-MHz K6 in the second half of this year and may also squeeze out a 300-MHz introduction before the end of the year.

The company is also being competitive on the pricing front. The AMD-K6-200 is priced at $349. The Intel 200-MHz Pentium Pro, which is comparable to the K6-200, is priced above $500. The AMD-K6-166 is priced at $244. The Intel 166-MHz Pentium, by comparison, sells for about $350.

The AMD-K6-233 processor is priced at $469. Intel currently has no processors running at 233 MHz.

But no matter how cheap or fast the K6 is, AMD has its work cut out for it winning over top-tier vendors, where Intel is firmly entrenched. No top-tier vendors today announced plans to manufacture actual systems using AMD processors, though at least one had been expected to do so. A relatively small vendor Tatung did announce that it would use the K6 in desktop systems.

"They have to decide if the value of the K6 today will offset preferential treatment from Intel," Sanders said.

Intel has been trying to eliminate at least one marketing advantage for AMD: the ability to use the "MMX" acronym in the chip's name. MMX stands for multimedia extensions and represents an Intel-developed technology for speeding up the performance of multimedia applications.

The AMD chip will be able to run all the applications rewritten to support MMX, but Intel had argued that the MMX trademark belonged to Intel alone. AMD has countered that the acronym belongs to the public domain.

Intel had tried to obtain a court order preventing AMD from using MMX in its advertising and marketing materials, but a federal judge denied the request yesterday.