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Compaq laptop offers new AMD chip

AMD debuts a faster version of its K6-2 processor for portables.

Advanced Micro Devices debuts a faster version of its K6-2 processor for portables, and again signs on the No. 1 PC maker as a customer.

Compaq said today it is launching new consumer notebook PCs based on the faster Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) K6-2 processors, running at 350- and 380 MHz, also announced today.

AMD claims the processor is 50 percent faster than Intel's low-cost Celeron 300 chip for notebook PCs.

The Presario 1675, 1670 and 1270 models are now available at retail stores, Compaq said. Compaq already offers a number of Presario notebook models using AMD chips.

The new chips also offer speedier "bus" technology. The bus shuttles data between the processor and memory. Generally, the faster the bus, the better the processor's performance. AMD's bus operates at 100 MHz, while the bus technology in Intel chips for mobile computers operates at only 66 MHz.

"It's not as fast as a Pentium II-366 in all regards, but it's a whole lot cheaper," one source familiar with the chip said. Before they were not "even in the same ballpark [as Intel]. Now [they are] and there's savings to be had."

Critical to AMD's goal of keeping the heat on Intel is its ability to boost its chips to higher and higher clock speeds.

But the task has proven difficult for the Sunnyvale, California, chipmaker, which hasn't been able to produce enough of its faster chips. AMD missed its fourth-quarter target, for instance, on a 400-MHz K6-2 desktop chip.

The shortcoming has hurt AMD with PC manufacturers and bruised its stock price of late. "If they've solved that problem, that's going to help them a lot competitively," one source predicted.

Intel isn't resting on its laurels, however, aiming to push its mobile processors to 500 MHz or 600 MHz by the end of the year. In addition, Intel benefits from its ability to manufacture its own chipsets, while AMD must rely on industrial partners such as VIA. Chipsets connect the main processor to other components in the computer.

"It remains to be seen whether AMD can work with its platform partners," the source noted.

Still, the notebook chip rivalry seems likely to heat up with AMD's introduction of its mobile K6-3, due in the second half of 1999. The new chip will be still faster because of a cache running at the full speed of the chip itself, said Microprocessor Report editor-in-chief Linley Gwennap.

While the K6-3 may not exceed Intel's offerings in speed, it is more compact, less power-hungry, likely to be less expensive than Intel chips, Gwennap said.

AMD could not be reached for comment.

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.