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TR's Comdex report 2001

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THIS YEAR'S COMDEX was supposed to be one of the smallest Comdex shows in recent memory, and in fact, it was. You'd never know, however, by looking at TR's Comdex report. Lots of tech companies have washed out over the course of the past year, but at the core of the PC, where we PC enthusiasts like to live, things are looking better than ever. Read on to see our complete, company-by-company report on PC component manufacturers at Comdex 2001, complete with more pictures than you can shake a memory stick at.

We've lovingly arranged things in no particular order whatsoever.

AMD had a number of interesting things to show at Comdex this year, the best of which was a sample of the 0.13-micron Athlon, code-named Thoroughbred. "T-bred" is a die-shrunk version of the Athlon XP (Palomino) core. The fact AMD had a sample of Thoroughbred on hand is probably a good indicator that AMD is on track for their conversion to their 0.13-micron fabrication process. Obviously, we couldn't verify whether the thing actually works, but the pictures look nice.

The 0.13-micron Thoroughbred chip: It's teensy

Like all die shrinks, T-bred should run cooler, require less power, and reach higher speeds than previous chips.

Thorougbred (left) compared to Palomino (right)

AMD did have a Thoroughbred-based system running WinXP, and I started to check out the System Summary in the Management Console to see how fast it was running, but the AMD rep quickly stepped in. Shucks.

We got the update on AMD's processor roadmap, as well. The roadmap is fairly easy to read; it looks like so:

AMD's latest processor roadmap (Larger version here)

Let's cover a few of the highlights.

  • AMD is actually planning two fabrication process conversions, the first to 0.13 microns with Thoroughbred, and the second to a new 0.13-micron process that uses silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology. The 0.13-micron SOI Athlon is code-named Barton. Both the die shrink and the conversion to SOI should provide extra headroom for the Athlon to run at higher frequencies. The conversion to 0.13 microns should be complete in the first half of 2002, and the SOI conversion is slated to follow in the second half of 2002.

  • As you might expect, the Duron follows a trajectory similar to the Athlon, although AMD hasn't yet decided whether to move the Duron to SOI fabrication. AMD also hasn't decided whether to move the Duron to its model numbering scheme or stick with only megahertz. We suspect once a Pentium 4-based Celeron hits the streets, the Duron will gain a model number rating.

  • AMD plans to keep Socket A intact for the life of the K7/Athlon core. That means the Socket A platform should remain more or less the same until the end of 2003, when AMD's Hammer line will finally replace the Athlon entirely.

  • Yes, that's right. There are plans for a multiprocessor product based on the Morgan (Duron) core. It's a "value server" product. More on this... soon.

  • AMD's next-generation Hammer series of processors is due late in 2002 or in early 2003. That means they've been pushed back a little bit compared to AMD's original plans. These chips will all be manufactured initially on AMD's 0.13-micron SOI process. The Hammer series will run 32-bit x86 code natively, and they will support AMD's 64-bit exenstions to the x86 ISA.

  • The coming process shrinks should make for some very small processors, especially compared to the competing Pentium 4. The current P4 is 217 mm2, and AMD estimates the 0.13-micron "Northwood" P4 at 166-145 mm2. By contrast, the Athlon XP is 128 mm2, and Thoroughbred should be a miniscule 80 mm2.
We also discussed the current state of the Duron with the AMD folks. Recent news reports have confirmed that AMD is using feature sizes smaller than 0.18 microns on current Athlon XP processors, all of which are made in AMD's Dresden plant. The Duron, though, is made only in AMD's Austin plant, where it can't benefit from either copper interconnects or fab tweaks made using Dresden's 0.13-micron-capable manfacturing tools. Depsite those facts, AMD assured us that Durons above 1GHz are available in ample quantities. AMD hasn't yet found any large OEMs willing to build 1GHz-plus Duron systems stateside, but the new Durons are selling better overseas.