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October 20, 1999

AMD & Intel: the Race to 1GHz

By CBR Staff Writer

The race between Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc to produce mainstream processors with clockspeeds of 1GHz (1,000MHz) is on. AMD opened its Fab 30 plant in Dresden, Germany yesterday and claims production of Athlon processors running at 1GHz will start in the first quarter of next year. Intel Corp is being more coy about its plans, saying that its Willamette 32-bit processor will run at over 1GHz and be available sometime next year.

AMD expects the $1.9bn Dresden plant to begin production of AMD Athlon processors featuring copper interconnect technology and built on a 0.18-micron design rule, later in the current quarter. In preparation for the ramp up to 1GHz, the company has built prototype Athlons at Dresden that run at 900MHz. Intel will launch its rival 0.18-micron desktop processor, the 733MHz Coppermine/Pentium III on Monday, along with a slew of other desktop, mobile, server and workstation processors.

Going forward, Intel’s plans are less clear. According to some reports on the web, a 1.1GHz Willamette could arrive as early as February or March next year. Certainly, Intel won’t want to be left behind in the clock speed race, but Willamette represents the next major sea change in Intel’s IA-32 roadmaps. Willamette will use a new ‘P7’ microarchitecture and the plans we’ve seen suggest that the chip would use copper interconnects, be built on a 0.13-micron design rule. It was originally due in the fourth quarter 2000 but if Intel now plans to deliver the chip early next year, it seems unlikely that it will be made using the smaller design rule. However, one interesting prospect is that the chip could use a 423-pin socket connection rather than the more standard 370-pin connection. This would put the dampers on Intel rush-releasing the chip, as it would have to have new chip infrastructure in place to support Willamette.

AMD’s problems are more immediate, despite the fact that it seems to be pushing the technology envelope with the Athlon, it needs to ensure that it can deliver product. As John Latta, analyst at Fourth Wave, comments: Just because AMD opens a new fab does not mean it will execute. AMD must accomplish high yields, at least 50% and higher, to be effective in the market. And AMD has made a massive investment in the Dresden fab. The company has confirmed that it is looking at possible fab partners for next year, but will give no names. Motorola Inc – which needs capacity to build its copper G4 chips – has long been mooted as a likely candidate.

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