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IBM makes faster Cyrix chips

The chipmaking arm of IBM will release two new versions of a Cyrix-designed processor, as conflicting strategies emerge from inside PC giant.

The chipmaking arm of IBM will release two new versions of a Cyrix-designed processor later this month, even though IBM's PC division dropped the processor family from its U.S. product lineup.

The upcoming 6X86MX processors, which are based around a design from Cyrix, will come to market with performance ratings of 300 and 333. A performance rating roughly corresponds to a megahertz speed rating of a Intel chip, according to the company, although the actual speed of the chip is lower.

The new chips illuminate some of the potential conflicts that IBM faces in its new role as one of the chief manufacturers of microprocessors based around the Intel X86 architecture.

Since the beginning of the year, IBM has signed a number of deals to produce a variety of chip lines for companies such as IDT and Advanced Micro Devices. IBM already manufactures chips for Cyrix and markets chips based around Cyrix designs under the IBM brand name.

Though IBM's surge of chipmaking activity has prompted a number of analysts to speculate that IBM could pose one of the more significant competitive challenges to Intel in the future, working as a chip manufacturing "fab" for different companies puts IBM in a tricky situation.

For instance, IBM Microelectronics, the company's chipmaking arm, claims that its 333-MHz 6X86MX processor will be 8 percent faster than the 300-MHz K6 from AMD. But IBM Microelectronics will also begin to manufacture AMD K6 chips later this year and IBM's PC division is promoting the K6 in a number of high-profile consumer PCs.

Conversely, earlier this year the IBM PC division dropped Cyrix-based 6X86 processors from Aptiva models sold in the United States, right around the same time it picked up the K6. Aptivas incorporating the 6X86 are still found in Canada.

The 6X86 chips from IBM are also more expensive than their AMD or Cyrix counterparts. The 333 version of the chip will sell for $299 in quantity while the 300 version will sell for $217. The 300-MHz version of the K6 sells for $246 and will likely be dropped in price when the K6 2 comes out next week. The 300PR version of the Cyrix M2 sells for $180.

While IBM has not disclosed whether it will use the new chips, direct marketer Tiger Direct said it will adopt the processor.