The past year has seen Intel regain much of the face they had lost in the CPU industry. The sole reason we are at 3.06GHz today with Hyper-Threading support is because, ever since the release of the Pentium 4, AMD had turned up the heat on Intel. Call it the waking of a giant or competition at its best, but no matter how you slice it, the past twelve months has shown us Intel at their finest.

Intel’s 0.13-micron transition was executed without a hitch, and their Northwood Pentium 4 core more than made up for the disappointment that was the Willamette. By the end of 2002, the Pentium 4 was no longer a joke but rather a serious alternative to the Athlon XP – as well as the world’s fastest desktop microprocessor.

The success of the Pentium 4 in 2002 was not only because of the Northwood core, but also because of Intel’s re-entry into the desktop chipset market. Although they have irritated motherboard manufacturers with their seemingly infinite revisions to the original 845 chipset, the quality and performance of the 845 chipsets has helped move the Pentium 4 into more and more PCs.

With all of this said, almost one year ago, AMD managed to create quite a bit of worry in Intel’s Santa Clara offices, with their demonstration of A0 Hammer silicon during IDF week. The Athlon was AMD’s first very well-executed processor, and if they could pull off the Hammer launch just as well, then Intel would surely be in trouble. A 2GHz Hammer (Athlon 64) launched toward the end of last year would have put the Pentium 4 to shame, and that is the reason Intel made the decision to pull in the release of the Hyper-Threading enabled 3.06GHz Pentium 4. Originally Hyper-Threading was to be a Prescott-only feature, due out in the second half of 2003, but the fear of AMD marketing the world’s only 64-bit desktop processor led Intel to war with the world’s only SMT desktop processor. In the end, it was better safe than sorry for Intel, as we have all heard the news of AMD’s latest Athlon 64 delay – it won’t be until September of this year before we see the Athlon 64 on desktops.

This time around, the delay can’t be blamed on manufacturing or the design of the chip, as the Opteron is still scheduled to launch relatively on-time in April. AMD’s official stance is that they are waiting for a 64-bit version of Windows XP to ship Athlon 64 with, which will make marketing the chip and AMD’s 64-bit strategy much easier to live out. However, after so many delays, how can AMD get away with pushing Athlon 64 back another seven months?

Looking back at what we learned at Comdex, Intel isn’t going to be aggressively ramping clock speeds of their Pentium 4 until Prescott at the end of this year. The fact of the matter is that, at 3.06GHz, the 0.13-micron Northwood core is producing an incredible amount of heat and making it beyond 3.2GHz will be tough given the current manufacturing process.

It is actually a very good thing for Intel that AMD has delayed the Athlon 64 even further; a competitive launch from AMD at this point would push Intel to release an even hotter and lower yield Pentium 4 that we could only hope would not be reminiscent of the recalled 1.13GHz Pentium III. In that case, Intel wasn’t ready to release any faster CPUs when AMD turned the competition up a notch, resulting in a CPU being pushed into the public’s hands that didn’t meet Intel’s standards and leaving the boys in blue with omelet-ridden faces.

With the Pentium 4 only hitting 3.2GHz in the near future, Intel is hoping to keep the market buying and upgrading their systems by bringing a few other features to the Pentium 4. AMD’s only threats for the first half of this year are an 800MHz FSB, Hyper-Threading and mainstream dual-channel DDR chipsets from Intel.

Taking those threats into account, AMD concluded that they would be able to remain competitive without playing the Hammer-card just yet. The focus has been Athlon 64 for the past several months, but after missing numerous internal deadlines and dealing with difficulty of launching a brand new CPU architecture under a very limited budget, the first half of 2003 will be carried by a little talked about core called Barton.

If you had asked us a year ago if we would be pitting yet another Athlon XP against Intel’s fastest, we wouldn’t have believed you. But as usual, it’s the unexpected case that ends up as reality, so today we take a look at the newest extension of the Athlon XP family: Barton.

What's a Barton?
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  • Anonymous User - Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - link

    Curious? Athlon XP 3000+ (2.167GHz) Barton is running with Intel's P4 2.5 and above and keep up? Intresting

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