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AMD K6-III ships

Brings K6 clock speed on a par with Intel, but new cache configuration yields higher performance

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AMD today launched its latest K6 processor, the K6-III, mere days before the company's arch-rival, Intel, begins shipping the Pentium III. And the company kicked off its announcement of the new chip with the claim that it outperforms the PIII. As reported by The Register previously, the K6-III will ship initially at 400MHz, with 450MHz parts available as samples. Prices are $284 and $476, respectively, per 1000 chips. As anticipated, the K6-III is the first of the K6 family to offer on-die L2 cache -- 256K of it. Unlike L2 cache memory installed in a backside configuration -- as is the case with the K6-2, and Pentiums II and III -- the K6-III's L2 operates at the full clock speed of the CPU. To compensate for the much smaller on-chip L2 -- it's a quarter of a typical K6-2 or PII backside L2 -- the K6-III supports a frontside L3 cache, operating at 100MHz, the same speed as the host PC's system bus. That, says AMD, gives the K6-III a significant speed boost. Based on AMD's figures, a K6-III with 512K of L3 cache is four per cen faster than a 450MHz PII under Windows NT and 6.4 per cent faster for Windows 98. Increase the L3 to the maximum of 2MB from no L3 cache, and performance goes up by around eight per cent said AMD's European marketing director, Robert Stead. AMD claims the mix of more cache and a much faster L2 make for major speed improvements, not only over the K6-2 an PII, but the PII too -- the 450MHz K6-III is faster than both 450MHz and 500MHz PIII's, it said. Still, there's an important caveat: the tests apply only to "mainstream business applications". Just as well -- benchmarks made by hardware site SharkyExtreme on the 400MHz K6-III show there's barely any difference between the 400MHz PII and the K6-III when it comes to games (a good test of the raw performance of a CPU) even with AMD's 3DNow! Technology engaged. Intel has said it will release its own PIII benchmarks later this week. And these are likely to show the effect of the PIII's Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSX), Intel's answer to 3DNow!, and which AMD clearly avoided mentioning. Indeed, Stead admitted there probably won't be much difference between the raw performance of 3DNow! and SSX. But he said the AMD technology has and would continue to garner far more support from software developers, thanks to the long lead it has had over SSX. "By the end of last year there were 13 million 3DNow! enabled PCs out there, and by the end of this year, we believe there will be over 30 million," he said. "Software developers will want to adddress an installed base before tackling something new." Beyond the modified cache architecture and greater clock speeds, the K6-III appears to be little different than the K6-2. Stead told The Register the company would use the chip to gain a foothold in the performance and business desktop PC markets, while the K6-2 will continue to be aimed at low-end consumer boxes. And he denied that the arrival of the K6-III -- or that of the forthcoming K7 -- would hasten the demise of the K6-2. ®

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