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AMD Rolls Out Athlon XP 3200+

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Looking ahead by watching the past, AMD Tuesday took the wraps of its latest PC processor, the Athlon XP 3200+.

The chip designed primarily for the desktop may be the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker’s last stand in its Barton-core XP line before making the jump to “Clawhammer” architecture in September.

The 3200+ chip runs at 2.2 GHz with a 400 MHz front-side bus, compared to the last Athlon XP desktop (the 3000+, which operates at 2.167 GHz). Priced at $464 in 1,000-unit quantities, the new chip is available immediately from computer makers in North America and Europe. The processors are compatible with AMD’s Socket A infrastructure and made using the company’s 0.13 micron copper process technology at its Fab 30 in Dresden, Germany.

And while AMD’s current desktop line runs slower than an chief rival Intel’s current 3.0 GHz Pentium 4 or its 3.2 GHz P4 due out later this month, AMD Product Manager Christopher Doran says speed is not everything.

“People have been trained to think that clock speed is indicative of performance and that’s not true,” Doran said. “In our architecture, we sat down and started talking about how processors are much more than just clock speed. Customers want their applications to run faster. So with the 3200+ we are breaking the limitations to find additional performance.”

Barton has been a popular architecture for AMD. Over the past three years, the company has toted its Athlon XP processors as low-cost, high-power alternatives to Intel-based desktop systems. And that strategy seems to be paying off. Statistics posted Monday by Cave Creek, Ariz.-based Mercury Research suggests AMD’s market share hit 16.6 percent in the last three months compared to its 13.8 percent plateau at the end of 2002. Intel, meantime lost 3 percent in the same timeframe shaving its 84.7 percent share in December 2002 to 81.7 percent in March.

And while the company is not commenting on any possibility of future Barton-cored Athlon chips, AMD’s published roadmap does not show any Barton chips scheduled in the immediate future.

But that won’t stop the company from bringing the chip back for a reprise. Doran told, AMD is leaving its Barton-based Athlon XP series open to future releases and is talking to Asian and Latin American partners to possibly revive its Duron chips for simpler machines.

“We still see some demand in those areas, but we have no launch dates,” he said.

The new AMD Athlon XP processor features QuantiSpeed architecture and support for AMD’s 3DNow! Professional instructions for enhanced multimedia capabilities. While the company says the chip can rip it up as a gaming and business application platform, internal benchmarking results actually show slower performance by the 3200+ when it comes to running multimedia apps like Comanche 4 Demo and MusicMatch Jukebox.

“Most folks who buy a system that have this type of chip in it are looking for overall performance,” Doran said. “We win on most of our benchmarks, but we think your average user will barely notice the difference.”

Even AMD acknowledges that Intel’s Hyper-Threading may be one method to increase interprocess communications (IPC) , but the company says the performance is not consistent.

AMD’s test labs ran 30 different applications against a 3.0 GHz P4 with Hyper-Threading turned off and claimed to beat Intel every time. Surprisingly, Doran said with the Hyper-Treading activated, AMD saw a disabled P4 machine drop 3 percent below the Athlon.

“Jedi Knight and MDK2 wouldn’t even work, Doran said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story suggested that the company was talking to overseas partners about both Athlons and Durons.

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