The race is on as Athlon processor arrives –

As he rolled out his company's 1GHz Athlon processor, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s founder Jerry Sanders described the breaking of the gigahertz speed barrier as a watershed event for the personal computer industry. But observers expect that Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD's lead may be short-lived. Intel is committed to launching a 1GHz microprocessor by the end of June, if not sooner.

Still, the release seems to be well supported with design-ins. Compaq Computer Corp., Houston, Texas, and Gateway Inc., San Diego, will both launch new systems powered by the speedy chip. The 1GHz Athlon will cost $1,299 in 1,000-unit quantities, so it clearly will be a high-end performer for the time being. The 950MHz and 900MHz Athlon versions, also announced, will cost $999 and $899 in 1,000-unit quantities, AMD said.

The AMD Athlon processor is manufactured using AMD's aluminum 0.18-micron process technology, features a microarchitecture optimized for high-clock frequency and has a fully pipelined, superscalar floating point unit for x86 platforms, AMD said. The AMD Athlon system bus runs at 200MHz with support for scalable multiprocessing, the company said.

Direct PC vendor Gateway is now taking orders for 1GHz Select 1000 desktop PCs, with pricing starting at US$2,999.

Compaq, meanwhile, said it will begin taking orders in the U.S. for 1GHz Athlon-powered Presario 5900Z desktop PC models as of March 9. Pricing will begin at $2,499.

For that price, Compaq will sell a complete 1GHz Athlon Presario 5900Z model with a 17-inch monitor. Other features will include 128M bytes of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory), a 30G-byte hard drive, 40x CD-ROM drive, a Diamond Stealth S540 graphics card with 16M bytes of memory, JBL Pro speakers and a 56K-bps (bits per second) V.90 modem, Compaq said.

Compaq will take orders for the new models both over its Web site and through U.S. retail outlets, the company said.

Gateway's 1GHz Select 1000 model comes standard with 128M bytes of SDRAM. Aimed at small businesses and consumers, the PCs can also be customized with a range of graphics processor options and Ultra ATA 66 hard drives of up to 34G bytes, as well as various CD-ROM drive and audio card choices.

Althon is an important product for AMD, which has lagged Intel despite major attempts to field successful x86 clones. Industry reports suggest Intel may push up the launch schedule for its 1GHz entrant, which was unveiled to the technical community at the recent Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs, Calif.

Includes reports from IDG News Service. David Legard, Terho Uimonen, Nancy Weil, and Doug Gray contributed to this report.

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