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AMD phasing out K6-III as speed race heats up

The K6-III, an enhanced version of AMD's budget K6-2 processor, appears to be headed for the same fate as the AMC Pacer.

Amid the race between AMD and Intel to release chips running at 1 GHz, AMD is phasing out its K6-III processor line.

The K6-III, an enhanced version of AMD's budget K6-2 processor, appears to be headed for the same fate as Apple's Newton, the AMC Pacer and other once-futuristic products that never quite found a viable niche.

Although the processor performed well on benchmark tests, the chip proved a shade too expensive for the budget PC market, analysts said. Unlike the K6-2, the processor contains 256KB of integrated cache memory. The integrated cache boosts performance, but also adds costs.

The K6-III is no longer being sold for desktop computers, an AMD spokeswoman acknowledged. The company continues to sell some versions of the chip for notebook computers, but no new versions of the chip will emerge. AMD no longer puts K6-III chips on its official price lists.

"They are putting their energy into Athlon in the performance market," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

While a tad too expensive for the budget market, both AMD's Athlon and Intel's Pentium III have also passed the K6-III in terms of performance. AMD currently sells Athlons running at 850 MHz and will come out with a 1-GHz processor later this month, sources have said. As reported on Wednesday, Intel will come out with a 1-GHz chip later this month.

The K6-III, by contrast, currently tops out at below 500 MHz.

AMD's product road map currently states that an enhanced version of the K6-III, called the K6-III +, will come out in the second quarter of this year for notebooks. The K6-III+, however, is very similar to the K6-2+, a similar chip but one that will cost less to manufacture. The K6-2+ will contain for the first time an integrated secondary cache.

AMD also plans to release a mobile version of Athlon toward the middle of the year, which will likely squeeze out the opportunity for the K6-III+ in the performance market.

AMD's future product plans, like the plans of other companies, are subject to change, the spokeswoman said.

Although chip speeds have accelerated faster than expected because of the race to 1 GHz, the competition has created supply problems. Consumers and dealers have complained for a number of months that they cannot find enough of Intel's fastest Pentium IIIs. AMD has faced similar, but not nearly as extensive, shortages at the top end of the Athlon line.

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As far as getting to 1-GHz processor goes, AMD should be able to achieve the mark with its existing technology and manufacturing capabilities, Brookwood added. "That should be well within their capability almost at a whim," he said.

"These guys (Intel and AMD) are in a sprint at this point" to get to 1 GHz, added Kevin Krewell, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report. Still, determining the winner in this race might prove difficult. What if one company gets a chip out first, but the later entrant becomes the one that can produce it in volume first, he asked.

As with Intel, AMD has refused to comment officially on whether the company will come out with a 1-GHz chip this month. Nonetheless, Hewlett-Packard and other computer companies are planning on shipping computers containing 1-GHz Pentium IIIs this month, various sources said.

Meanwhile, AMD spokesman Drew Prairie stated: "If they (Intel) are planning to release a 1-GHz chip, we plan to be competitive with them."

In other AMD news, the company confirmed that Dana Krelle, vice president of marketing, has left the company. Krelle follows Vinod Dham and Atiq Raza as another executive that came to AMD from the NextGen acquisition to leave the company.