Although they may not be the largest x86 processor manufacturer on the block, they are definitely the favorite of quite a few in the enthusiast community these days. Their recent burst in popularity is not without merit. The launch of the Athlon microprocessor close to two years ago has truly brought desktop performance to new levels. It is clear that the Pentium III architecture is an aging one, so the Athlon's original competitor is now on its way out of the picture. What AMD does have to worry about is the Athlon's latest bully, the Pentium 4.

From a purely architectural standpoint, the Pentium 4 is quite impressive. Its performance in today's applications is disappointing but judging by its performance in upcoming applications and games, the Pentium 4 does have a much brighter future than was originally thought. On a performance level, the Athlon can continue to compete with the Pentium 4 but the match up won't be anything like it has been for AMD in the past where the Pentium III was its only competitor. The Pentium 4 platform offers more memory bandwidth and the promise of higher clock speeds than the Athlon's Thunderbird core can deliver.

AMD isn't one to rest on their laurels however and with that in mind they have already scheduled three replacement cores for the Thunderbird. The core being announced today is one of the most highly talked about improvements to the Athlon core ever since the Thunderbird was released in June of last year. This of course is the Palomino core which is found in the latest release of the Athlon processor that AMD is calling the Athlon 4.

Why Athlon 4?

Technically speaking, the Palomino core does mark the fourth AMD Athlon core since the release of the original K7 core in 1999. If we begin counting at the K7 core there was the 0.18-micron Athlon which was based on the K75 core, then the 0.18-micron Thunderbird with on-die L2 cache and the fourth Athlon core would be the 0.18-micron Palomino core.

However our most astute readers will know very well why AMD chose to call the Palomino the Athlon 4. Intel has spent millions of dollars on their Pentium 4 marketing campaign, marking this as their largest processor ramp in history. By the end of 2001 Intel expects the Pentium 4 to completely push out the Pentium III in the markets and in order to do so they must create quite a bit of brand recognition. AMD is obviously using the name Athlon 4 to build off of Intel's aggressive marketing. It is much like what they did with the K6-III processor. Originally the K6-X series of processors used regular numbers after the name to denote the processor series, for example the original K6 was just called the K6 and the second generation part was called the K6-2. Before the third generation K6 launched Intel called their latest processor at the time the Pentium III, so AMD went ahead and called their third generation K6 processor the K6-III.

The reasoning behind calling the Palomino the Athlon 4 is completely marketing. We can go into the reasons why they should've or why they shouldn't have done so but honestly it doesn't matter when it comes down to performance. You all are smart enough not to fall for marketing gimmicks so there's no point in drawing this discussion out any further. AMD decided to call the Palomino the Athlon 4, case closed.

What is the Athlon 4?

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