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AMD claws for top with new chip

The chipmaker is looking to take back the PC processor speed crown from Intel with a new chip for desktops.

Advanced Micro Devices is again challenging Intel for the PC processor speed crown with a new chip for desktops.

AMD on Wednesday will unveil its Athlon XP 2100+ processor at the CeBit trade show in Hannover, Germany. The 1.73GHz chip outperforms Intel's 2.2GHz Pentium 4 on several benchmarks, the company claims, although Intel's chip sports a more impressive clock speed.

In North America, Compaq Computer will release PCs with the chip, and Fujitsu-Siemens will put it in it boxes for the European market. Hewlett-Packard expects to adopt the new chip later.

Compaq's new black and silver Presario 8000 series desktop PC will pair the 2100+ chip with Nvidia's nForce chipset, which connects a PC's processor with other system-level components. The nForce is unique in that it includes several features not found in other AMD chipsets, such as the Hypertransport high-speed chip interconnect technology, used to transfer data between various chips.

A Presario 8000 configured with the 2100+ chip, 256MB of DDR SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, a CD-Rewritable drive and a 17-inch monitor starts at about $1,380, according to Compaq's Web site.

AMD will also release Athlon XP 1600+ for notebooks, and Athlon XP 2000+ for workstations and servers. Compaq plans to use the former in its Presario 700 notebooks.

All of these markets--desktops, notebooks, workstations and servers--will be crucial for AMD this year, executives have said.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD and Intel have battled over desktop performance supremacy since August 1999 when the first Athlon debuted. At various times, each company has been able to declare itself No. 1.

Overall, the top chips of both companies are roughly equal, according to most analysts, and they each offer more computing power than most consumers will likely use. Still, having the best chip is a powerful marketing tool, and among hard-core computer enthusiasts the "AMD or Intel?" debate can run just as hot and furious as the Mac/PC battles.

AMD-based computers also often sell for $100 less than their Intel counterparts, making them better buys, according to some benchmark testers.

The latest phase in the competition began in October 2001 when AMD launched the Athlon XP, which contained an enhanced processor core and a new name.

Intel then countered in early January with the Northwood version of its Pentium 4, a chip which features a performance-enhancing 512KB Level 2 cache, the largest for a desktop chip to date. Intel's chip was also made on the 130-nanometer manufacturing process, which should allow Intel to increase the clock speed with greater ease.

The fun, of course, won't stop there. The new 2100+, 2000+ and 1600+ chips will be the last AMD manufactures with the older 180-nanometer process. An upcoming Athlon chip called Thoroughbred, based on a 130-nanometer processor core, is expected to have even higher clock speeds. It is due next quarter, slightly later than expected.

When purchased in 1,000-unit quantities, the new 2100+ chip will list for $420, the 2000+ chip will list for $415, and the mobile 1600+ processor will go for $380.

Additionally, AMD cut prices on its Athlon 4 mobile chips. The 1500+ chip was reduced by 52 percent, from $525 to $250. The 1.2GHz saw the largest price cut, 55 percent, from $425 to $190. The 1.1GHz was cut by 40 percent from $290 to $175, while the 1.0GHz fell by 42 percent from $260 to $150.

Price cuts from AMD, though, are sometimes difficult to gauge as the company often gives even larger discounts to its big customers. These additional discounts often end up causing chips to sell at retail for less than the "official" price from AMD.