Unfortunately, according to AMD, very little.  The biggest rumor that has been floating around, unconfirmed, was that AMD was going to be lengthening the pipeline of the Athlon core in order to allow for higher clock speeds.  While we mentioned that this is one method to paving the way for higher clock speeds in our Pentium 4 review, this isn’t by any means the only way to achieve a higher clock speed.  Needless to say, AMD won’t be making any changes to the Athlon’s pipeline for the Palomino core. 

As far as any other major architectural changes are concerned, AMD seemed very adamant in their statement that the only real changes to the Palomino would be related to power consumption and heat production. 

If this is indeed AMD’s position on the future of the Athlon they could be in a bit of trouble if Intel can execute and gain enough support for the Pentium 4.  A > 2GHz Pentium 4 with applications that can take full advantage of SSE2 at its disposal may be all that Intel needs to take advantage of this situation, provided that AMD does leave the Athlon’s architecture as-is.  But as you’re soon to see, AMD may have other things in mind for the future of their line instead of spending much time with tailoring the Athlon to compete with tomorrow’s Pentium 4. 

Before we get to that, let’s talk about the real issue here.  If the Palomino core, still based on AMD’s 0.18-micron process, is going to offer one advantage over the Thunderbird, its lower power consumption, how much lower are we talking?  According to the representatives we talked to, they were expecting at least a 20% reduction in power consumption and heat production.  If we take a look at the specs for a theoretical 1.33GHz Athlon based on the current Thunderbird core, and assume only 80% of its heat production, we can expect that a 1.33GHz Palomino would be dissipating around 55W of heat, around the same amount as a current generation 1.2GHz Athlon. 

This does mean that the Pentium 4 will continue to be the cooler running processor unless AMD can surpass their initial estimates which is quite possible, however greater than a 30% reduction in heat production seems unlikely without some major reworks of the core.  

By the second quarter of 2001 the Athlon, based on the Palomino core should be at speeds of 1.5GHz and greater, and by this time the entry level mainstream systems will be able to carry 1.1GHz Athlons (200MHz FSB) in the $1,100 - $1,300 price range. 

The end of 2001 will see the Palomino core reach speeds of 1.7GHz and above, potentially going as high as 2GHz, however this is very dependent on how Intel chooses to play their cards as well.  Also, sometime in the second half of 2001 AMD expects their entire performance/mainstream line to be composed of 266MHz FSB Athlon CPUs, with the lowest speed grade being 1.2GHz.  This means that DDR SDRAM should be very common by that time, and for most AnandTech readers, even sooner.

The Palomino will also be the first Athlon core that will be partially targeted at the single/dual processor server and workstation markets.  Although many have already been using the Athlons in such environments, the Palomino is a step in the right direction for AMD as the server/workstation market could definitely use a higher performance alternative to the Pentium III Xeon. 

The first quarter of 2002 will be met with the debut of the fifth Athlon core since the processor’s introduction late last year.  For those of you that can’t remember, the Athlon’s first core was the K7 (0.25-micron, off die L2 cache), followed by the K75 (0.18-micron, otherwise identical to the K7), then came the Thunderbird (0.18-micron, on-die L2), we just finished discussing the Palomino (lower power version of the Thunderbird) and next is AMD’s Thoroughbred core. 

Thoroughbred, quite possibly the weirdest core name we have ever heard that hasn’t come from VIA/Cyrix, is the next logical step for the Athlon.  It will use AMD’s upcoming 0.13-micron fabrication process, a die shrink which will decrease power consumption yet again while allowing for even higher clock speeds.  There is very little that is known about the Thoroughbred and quite a bit about it could change between now and its official release in over a year, we’ll be sure to keep you posted on anything we discover. 

The AMD Athlon: Too hot for PC AMD’s Athlon hits the road
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