AMD's Duron Targets Value PCs

SAN FRANCISCO (04/27/2000) - With its Athlon processor successfully challenging Intel Corp. at the higher end of the PC processor market, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. returns to its roots in the low-end chip market with its announcement Thursday of a new processor named Duron for value-priced PCs.

AMD says the Duron, formerly code-named Spitfire, will begin shipping in volume this June, but the company won't disclose initial speed ratings or pricing.

The Duron is the successor to the company's K6-2 and K6-III desktop processors, says Mark Bode, a division marketing manager at AMD. The K6-2 is the company's highest volume CPU and will likely remain on the market into next year.

The Duron--a Latin-derived name that means roughly "lasting unit"--will compete directly with Intel's Celeron processor, appearing in sub-$1000 PCs. AMD won't disclose which PC vendors it expects to offer Duron-based systems at launch, but Bode says consumers should see some systems by the third quarter of the year.

The company is releasing few details about the chip itself, which is based on the well-regarded Athlon design. The Duron will have a 200-MHz front-side bus, AMD's 3DNow technology, and a full-speed, on-die L2 cache, Bode says. The company won't disclose the size of that L2 cacheWhile AMD won't offer speed or pricing details about the June launch, Bode says the first Duron will offer comparable speeds and competitive prices to Celeron products available at the same time.

What's in a Name?

Announcing a new brand name for its latest processor is a smart move by AMD, says Nathan Brookwood, analyst for Insight 64, a research firm in Saratoga, California. The move aims to let the company portray different attributes of the chip, and cast off some of the limitations of the K6 brand.

The K6 brand has long been associated with value pricing, but less so with great technology, Brookwood says. (He also points out that the K-branding had a limited lifespan--since a "K9" was out of the question.)AMD faces bigger problems than choosing a new name, Brookwood says. Chief among those could be convincing vendors to switch from the K-6 to the new chip, with its different motherboard requirements. "The transition could be complicated," he says.

Another potential difficulty is that Duron could cannibalize low-end Athlon sales, he comments.

It's a problem Intel faced last year when its Celeron processor speeds approached the performance levels of its PII chips, which hurt PII sales. Intel now maintains a larger performance gap between its two processor lines, and AMD will have to work to do the same thing, Brookwood says.

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