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AMD may mutate to survive

AMD may change the Athlon name in war on Intel

AMD plans to change its Athlon naming scheme to better compete with Intel's high-speed Pentium 4, according to published reports. Executed carefully, the supposed plan could be a real boon to the megahertz-strapped chip maker, analysts say.

AMD officials decline to comment on the report, which says the company will in October rename its flagship Athlon processor, attaching numeric codes that correspond to similar-performing P4 chips. Intel's P4 chip, now running at up to 2 GHz, has far outpaced AMD's 1.4-GHz Athlon in terms of frequency.

But most benchmarks, inlcuding PC Advisor's, show the Athlon's overall performance is comparable to the higher-frequency P4 unless the test PC is running Windows 2000. Under the scheme, names of new Athlons might reflect that.

Mike Feibus, principal analyst with Mercury Research, couldn't discuss or confirm AMD's plans, but he acknowledges the company's uphill marketing battle with the Athlon. It is a hard sell when your product appears to offer less performance than it really does, he says.

The P4 appears to outperform the Athlon because PC users typically look at frequency as the primary measure of performance, but it is actually only part of the equation, he says. The amount of work you do per clock tick is just as important as how fast the clock ticks, he says. The Athlon does more work per clock tick than the P4, but the P4 runs its clock faster.

Feibus uses a running water analogy. The Athlon collects, then dumps, water using a bucket. The P4 uses a cup to collect the water. The bucket takes longer to fill, and it doesn't dump very often; the cup fills up fast, and dumps more often. In the end, both sides move about the same amount of water [performance] in the same amount of time, but they do it in different ways.

If AMD does begin naming its chips in relation to P4 speeds, it won't be the first time the company has instituted performance-rated titles, Feibus says. AMD and fellow chip makers Cyrix and IBM have all used the tactic in the past, with varied results.

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