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AMD Feels No Need For Speed

After months of losing share to rival Intel, AMD started playing catch up last month, unveiling four new, faster Athlon processors and a marketing scheme designed to gloss over the fact that even these faster chips lag behind the Pentium 4.

These chips boost AMD’s Athlon processor line speed up to 1.53GHz, but the latest Pentium 4 processors announced last month hit the 2GHz level. To counter potential consumer perceptions that AMD’s processors are inferior, the company is taking a page from Apple’s play book by saying clock speed is not the true measure of a chips performance. Apple rarely misses a chance to run one of its PowerPC computers against a Pentium-powered machine to show how the PowerPC chip can outpace Pentium in running an application.

Along a similar line AMD has rolled out the True Performance Initiative (TPI). The initiative will try and explain to consumers that application-processing speed is the best measure of a processor’s performance, not its megahertz or gigahertz rating, the company said. AMD did not divulge how TPI will rate processors.

Gartner/Dataquest processor analyst Tom Starnes called the TPI a good move. “Actually, measuring real performance rather than clock speed is proper. Intel turned this into a [clock speed] game several years ago and while there is some truth to this it is not everything,” he said.

As part of the TPI, AMD plans to stop using clock speed in its naming configurations and instead label the chips with these designators: 1800+, 1700+, 1600+ and 1500+. These numbers do not indicate that the AMD chips run at a particular speed. AMD executives explained that an 1800+ Athlon with a clock speed of 1.53GHz will operate as fast as an Intel P4 processor rated at 1.8GHz.

AMD’s new position on clock speed is interesting in that until these announcements the company would beat Intel over the head with the fact that the latest AMD chip was the fastest on the market.

Getting the idea across to consumers will be a challenge, Starnes said. It takes a sophisticated understanding or processor technology to grasp the differences, he said. Adding AMD will have to spend a lot of money and time to educate people.

AMD’s last new initiative is a branding tie in with the launch of Microsoft’s Windows XP. The new processors are named Athlon XP to indicate the chip is designed to efficiently run the new operating system.