September 18, 2001 5:15 PM PDT

AMD's Athlon: Give me an X...Give me a P

Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices will call its upcoming desktop processor the Athlon XP in what seems to be an odd marketing coincidence.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD next month will release a 1.5GHz Athlon desktop processor. Unlike current chips that merely go by the name "Athlon," the new chip and its successors will carry the XP suffix, similar to Windows XP, the name of Microsoft's next operating system.

Although the chip's XP designation appears to have been inspired by Microsoft, that's not the case, sources say. Instead, AMD will adopt the new brand as part of a campaign to differentiate its chips from competing products from Intel.

AMD is locked in a dire battle with Intel--and with much of the buying public--over the importance of chip speed, which is measured in megahertz and gigahertz. For years, megahertz could be used to track relative performance between Intel and AMD chips.

Chip speed, however, has become less reliable as a barometer of relative performance with the rise of Athlon, according to several analysts and benchmark testers. Intel's fastest Pentium 4 runs at 2GHz. The fastest Athlon runs at 1.4GHz. In a number of benchmark tests, the Pentium 4 has edged out the Athlon chip.

But because of the different designs of the two chips, the difference in performance in real-world computing tasks is not as big as one might expect. Still, chip speed is one of the main criteria consumers look at when buying a PC, so AMD finds itself at a disadvantage. The megahertz gap has also meant that AMD has had to cut its chip prices drastically.

To combat the problem, AMD decided to completely revamp its chip marketing. Along with promoting the XP designation, AMD will downplay megahertz and gigahertz. Instead of selling a 1.5GHz Athlon, AMD will sell the chip as an Athlon 1900+. The new number is expected to roughly correlate to the equivalent speed of a Pentium 4. But direct comparisons, which would force megahertz matching, will probably be avoided.

The XP designation, sources say, is an unfortunate coincidence. In AMD's case, the letters XP stand for extra performance. In Windows XP, the XP stands for experience. AMD apparently had been contemplating the branding scheme at the time Microsoft announced the software.

The letters X and P appear to have captured the spirit of the times. Trident Microsystems came out with a graphics chip in spring 2000 called the Blade XP.

AMD and Microsoft representatives could not be reached for comment.

The AMD chip, which was originally due to hit desktops in the first half of 2001 at 1.2GHz, will contain features not found on current Athlons. For one, it is expected to consume less energy, which will allow PC makers to slip it into smaller PCs.

The chip certainly has had its share of aliases. A version of the chip is currently featured in notebooks, where it goes by the name Athlon 4. AMD has never marketed an Athlon 2 or 3. By calling it Athlon 4, AMD was able to beat Intel to having a chip with a 4 designation by several months. The Pentium 4 won't hit notebooks until the first half of 2002.

Back in 1999, the AMD chip went by the code name Corvette. The company switched the code name to Palomino after inquiries from General Motors.

 

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