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AMD to release its fastest desktop chip

The company is set to deliver its new Athlon XP 3200+ processor, sporting a 400MHz system bus, during the first half of the month, say sources familiar with the company's plans.

Advanced Micro Devices plans to launch its newest processor for desktop PCs in early May, sources have said.

The chipmaker is set to deliver its new Athlon XP 3200+ chip during the first half of the month. The chip will sport at least one new feature, a 400MHz system bus, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The move to the faster bus, a step up from the company's current 333MHz bus, is intended to give the Athlon XP more performance by accelerating data traveling between the processor and system components such as memory.

While much of AMD's focus is on its new AMD64 chip family, which includes the recently introduced Opteron processor for servers, the Athlon XP chip is still what pays the bills for the company. It's in the chipmaker's best interests, then, to keep the desktop chip as competitive as possible with Intel's Pentium 4 processor.

An increase in the bus speed alone would likely offer enough of an overall gain to justify the 3200+ designation, analysts said. AMD has been naming its chips to reflect their performance.

"If AMD can get a performance boost from going to the 400MHz bus, it can get a (model number) performance boost without raising the clock speed much. It's entirely possible it would do that," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

The company is expected to offer at least a slight increase in clock speed as well.

When it comes out, the new Athlon XP 3200+ is likely to be adopted by a wide range of manufacturers. AMD said that about 25 companies offered the 3200+ chip's predecessor, the Athlon XP 3000+, when it was introduced.

While smaller manufacturers like Alienware usually offer new Athlon XP chips as quickly as possible, Hewlett-Packard, AMD's biggest customer, adopts new Athlons on its own schedule. The 3000+ and several other Athlon XP chips are available now in HP Pavilion desktops, including the new Pavilion 700 series. HP also offers Athlon XP chips in some Compaq Presario models.

The Athlon XP will serve as AMD's main product for the remainder of the year, even as the company works to increase production of Opteron and launches the desktop-oriented Athlon 64 processor. The Athlon 64 will make its debut in September, the company has said.

Meanwhile, one of the most anticipated aspects of the 3200+ will be how well it stacks up against Intel's latest Pentium 4 chips. The 3000+ performed well in tests against the much faster Pentium 4, outpacing even the 3.06GHz version of the chip in several areas, including general business applications, according to tests by Anandtech. The Athlon chip lagged the 3.06GHz Pentium 4 in some areas, however, including multimedia performance, according Anandtech.

The Athlon XP 3200+ will face a bigger challenge, however. It will go up against a new generation of Intel chips, including the latest performance-oriented chipset, the 875P, and the 3GHz Pentium 4 processor. The chips sport an 800MHz bus and other new features for top-of-the line PCs. Intel also this month will deliver a similar new chipset for more mainstream PCs. It is also expected to bring out a new 3.2GHz Pentium 4 soon.

Analysts say it's too early to know how the new chips will rate against each other, with testing not yet complete.