October 30, 2000 2:40 PM PST

AMD switches to faster memory

Advanced Micro Devices on Monday released a chipset that allows computer makers to adopt faster memory for PCs and sets the stage for a performance showdown with Intel.

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AMD's Double Data Rate out of the gate
Rob Herb, executive VP, AMD
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD released its 760 chipset, which allows computer makers to connect AMD's Athlon processor with Double Data Rate (DDR) DRAM, a faster version of ordinary computer memory, or SDRAM.

Taken together, DDR memory and the new chipset effectively increase the flow of data from memory to the processor. Although microprocessor speeds have accelerated rapidly over the past few years, memory and chipsets, which connect memory to the processor, have not. As a result, processors often must wait for data to get through the bottleneck.

DDR helps ease the problem because it runs at 200 MHz or 266 MHz, twice as fast as standard memory. The 760 chipset, meanwhile, runs at 200 MHz, the same as current Athlon chipsets, or at 266 MHz.

AMD also has released three new versions of its Athlon processor to synchronize with the new chipset. The Athlon chip still tops out at 1.2 GHz, but AMD also has released a 1.13-GHz version of the processor.

Micron Electronics came out with a computer featuring Athlon and DDR memory and promised to start taking orders for computers with the 266-MHz chipset on Nov. 6. Compaq, among others, is expected to come out with DDR-based Athlon computers in early 2001.

Benchmark tests published today indicate that DDR memory does in fact provide a performance advantage over other Athlon PCs and Pentium III computers equipped with Rambus memory. While estimates vary, the switch to the fastest form of DDR gives about a 10 percent boost in power.

The real showdown, however, will occur next month when Intel releases its Pentium 4 processor. The Pentium 4 will debut at 1.4 GHz and 1.5 GHz, while the accompanying chipset will run at 400 MHz. Although the Pentium 4 will likely work with DDR DRAM eventually, initially it will only be paired with Rambus memory.

While the Pentium 4 will be faster and have a faster bus, the contest is by no means over. AMD plans to come out with a 1.5-GHz Athlon early next year, as well as an enhanced version of Athlon, code-named Mustang.

"If Intel doesn't suffer further delays and can really focus on availability, the race for speed sovereign will be a close one, indeed," Chris Angelini, editor at Sharky Extreme, wrote in a review of the chip.

In terms of price, Pentium 4 and Athlon systems could be closely matched. As previously reported, the 1.5-GHz Pentium 4 will come out at $795, while a 1.4-GHz version will cost $625. Rambus memory is more expensive than DDR, but the company will offer $70 rebates to PC manufacturers. Overall, this will lead to PCs that cost around $2,000, which is the price of Micron's DDR-equipped PC today.

 

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