February 11, 1999 4:00 AM PST

AMD got game

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A slew of leading game publishers and developers formally pledged to support Advanced Micro Devices' 3DNow technology, a move which will give AMD a bit of marketing ammo on the eve of the release of Intel's Pentium III.

The agreements essentially mean that game makers will release versions of several hundred of their most popular game titles--including Tomb Raider, Diakatana, and Loose Cannon--optimized for computers running K6-2 and K6-III processors, both of which contain 3DNow technology, said Dana Krelle, vice president of marketing at AMD.

3DNow technology is a series of 21 instructions designed to boost multimedia and 3D performance. 3DNow instructions are included on the K6-2 processor and will be included in the soon-to-be-released K6-III processor and the K-7 chip, which arrives mid-year.

Intel is introducing a technically similar set of multimedia-enhancing instructions, called the "Katmai New Instructions" or "Streaming SIMD Extensions," with the Pentium III. Publishers are expected to optimize their titles for the Pentium III as well, according to Krelle and others.

In fact, "they are basically identical technologies," said Krelle.

The key difference between the two technologies is in how they will be marketed. In this regard AMD will hold an advantage over Intel in 1999, said Krelle.

The multimedia instructions that come with the Pentium III won't come to the budget line of Celeron processors until next year, he said. By contrast, AMD's K6-2 chips are already popular in the sub-$1,000 market and include multimedia enhancements. As a result, AMD can either claim a price advantage over Pentium III with similar multimedia performance or superior technology over equally priced Celeron computers as well as an existing customer base.

The customer base and marketing AMD chips should therefore ensure a market niche for 3DNow chips, which could help gather additional support from software publishers, which in turn will support greater market acceptance of 3DNow among customers. Or so the theory goes.

"We have 8.5 million K6-2 users now and will have over 30 million users in the installed base by the end of the year," Krelle said. "We think the installed base will be in our favor throughout the entire year."

The different market segments that K6-2 and Pentium III chips will occupy in the market may also cause Intel to downplay the multimedia emphasis with its marketing of the Pentium III processor, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

"They are probably not going to aggressively market it. It favors AMD if Katmai is marketed too heavily," he said.

Nonetheless, the instruction battle will likely only have a limited impact on the market, he said. Generally, it takes a number of years before a new instruction set is embraced.

Although it has been on the market since last year, few applications take full advantage of 3DNow. Instead, most developers have written the applications to take advantage of Microsoft's Direct X 6.0, an software technology that allows applications to take advantage of both 3DNow and the Katmai instructions to a limited degree.

 

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