Before the summer vacations begin, both leading processor manufacturers, AMD and Intel, launched their new models of the latest CPU generations targeted for high-performance PCs. AMD was the first one to make the last step forward before the next qualitative stage. About a month ago they released their Athlon XP 3200+, which is supposed to be the fastest representative of the Athlon XP family (read our AMD Athlon XP 3200+ CPU with 400MHz Bus Review for more details). All AMD’s ongoing plans in this market sector are connected with the next generation Athlon 64 processor based on new x86-64 architecture, which is due in September. Intel made a short pause and introduced its last 0.13micron Pentium 4 processor on Northwood core only today. This last model in the famous processor family will be Pentium 4 3.2GHz. After that it will take about three months before Intel announces a new desktop processor based on Prescott core in Q4. due to higher clock frequencies and enhanced core architecture, Intel will be able to raise the performance bar for the desktop solutions quite tangibly. But it will happen only in Q4 2003...
We would like to point out that during the long-lasting competition between Pentium 4 and Athlon architectures, Intel’s solution proved more scalable. Since the times of the first Pentium 4 processor, a lot of production technologies have come to replace the older ones, and the core frequency has more than doubled. Today the use of 0.13micron technology allows reaching 3.2GHz core clock. As for AMD, they got stuck at 2.2GHz and can’t boast processor working frequencies that high. And even though you see how more powerful Athlon XP is than Pentium 4 working at the same actual core frequency, the difference in core clock rates has become too big and started affecting the situation in the market a lot. In other words, Athlon XP 3200+ working at the actual 2.2GHz can hardly be called a fully-fledged competitor to Pentium 4 3.2GHz.
The graph below illustrates the core frequencies growth during the last three years for both processor families: Athlon and Pentium 4:
As we see, 2.2GHz is an insuperable hindrance for AMD, which can be overcome only in H2 2004 in the best case, when AMD completes the transition of its facilities to 90nm production technology. Until then, even the new generation Athlon 64 processors will still have low core frequencies (see our exclusive Athlon 64 Performance Preview for more details). It is still hard to say whether they will be able to compete on equal terms with Prescott based Intel solutions. However, it looks as if AMD were about to have serious problems. Prescott with its larger L1 and L2 caches, enhanced Hyper-Threading technology and higher working frequencies can become a much more attractive buy than Athlon 64.
As for Pentium 4 CPUs, their scalability is something you can only envy. Pentium 4 core frequency has been growing smoothly from the very first processor launch. This summer and fall we will live through a short period of calm, which has been caused by the necessity to introduce new manufacturing technology. However, it shouldn’t tell on the general situation in the processor market. The use of efficient Hyper-Threading technology and faster 800MHz processor bus, allows Intel’s CPUs to outpace the rivalry products from AMD so greatly, that the company has no need to worry until AMD Athlon 64 start spreading really widely.