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New AMD chip to wait for fast bus

The K6 3D processor will debut May 28, but the chip's full potential may be delayed because of part problems.

The K6 3D processor, Advanced Micro Devices' next great hope for market share, will debut at the E3 conference May 28, but the chip's full potential may be delayed because of part problems.

The K6 3D--which will be introduced at speeds of 266 MHz and 300 MHz, along with systems that incorporate it--will feature better "floating point" performance for faster graphical computing, as well as a new set of 3D instructions. But the biggest improvement will be its ability to talk to other components in the computer at a higher speed with a faster "bus."

The 100-MHz bus, which is embodied in a processor's companion chips, could boost the K6's performance by as much as 15 percent, according to various estimates. System buses--which determine how quickly processors can get data--have been stuck for years at 66 MHz for processors from AMD, Intel, and others.

Intel recently released Pentium IIs that use a 100-MHz system bus. These relatively pricey processors run at 350 MHz and 400 MHz. A more moderately priced K6 with the faster bus should give AMD greater appeal to consumers and computer vendors.

"The K6 300-MHz with the [new bus] will perform better than the 300-MHz Pentium II with [the older] system bus," said Ashok Kumar, semiconductor analyst with Piper Jaffray. "If these guys can price the product aggressively and get their act together, they can get some market share."

Unfortunately, only a small number of PC circuit boards--referred to as motherboards--with the 100-MHz capability will come out at that time because the related chips that work with the processor aren't ready. For now, AMD is concentrating "more on the 3D part rather than the 100-MHz part" until the third quarter, according to a source in the chipset industry.

The Aladdin 5 chipset from Acer Laboratories, which will house the 100-MHz bus, is still not complete and won't be available for "a month or two," said a source at that company. This likely means motherboards with the Aladdin 5 won't come out until the third quarter. A chipset works in tandem with the main processor and incorporates many of the critical functions related to the bus.

Motherboards using the 100-MHz chipset from Via Technologies will be available, but the chipset needs "another turn of silicon" before it will be commercially viable, said Kumar.

As a result, the delay places a question mark on AMD's ability to gain in the marketplace. In one sign that the release may be muted, Compaq, one of AMD's largest customers, is not expected to release systems next month for the chip.

AMD declined to comment on the K6 3D product release but said that the chip would come out in the first half of the year. In addition, systems that use the chip as well as 100-MHz motherboards using the Via chipset were expected to be released simultaneously with the processor.

"We expect systems to be available when we release the chip," said Dwayne Cox, an AMD spokesman.