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Intel-AMD speed war megahurts too much

Battle of chip shark and chip barracuda begs questions for consumers

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Analysis x.86 companies AMD and Intel will play hop,skip and jump for the whole of this year, with the object of desire apparently to have the highest clock speed emblazoned on their, and their customers' products. But there is a danger that if you don't work for Intel and AMD, you're likely to be deluded not only by the "my chip is faster than yours" claims, column inches in the press, and the patriotic fervour of some folk who seem to think microprocessor companies are soccer teams. Most of the obfuscation has actually been caused by the microprocessor companies themselves, keen to persuade consumers that 800MHz is intrinsically a "better thing" than 750MHz. Some people docare...witness the plethora of overclocking sites on the WWW, and the lengths people will go to get that extra bit of speed out of their machines. The "gaming nutters" as one distributor who will remain unnamed in this piece, dubs them, will always go for the 800MHz and the 900MHz and the 1GHz chip when it arrives, as well as overclocking the hell out of them. But when Intel introduced its infamous Inside campaign back in 1991, many in the industry -- not least firms like Compaq -- felt that persuading the world they had to have a Chipzilla processor inside the box was, shall we say, somewhat unnecessary. Intel's very cunning plan, which is still running, was to help persuade to not only use its microprocessors, but in return give them a bit of marketing dosh for displaying the Chipzilla logo on the adverts and on the outside of the machines. Some, perhaps with justice, felt this was a little bit like a hidden Intel tax... Be that as it may, Intel's Inside campaign has been a great success and it catapaulted the firm into the public's perception, while the catchy little tune ding ding ding ding ding, is heard on the box perhaps a little too much. Compaq, and others, thought that advertising Intel inside the boxes detracted from their own branding, and wondered if people cared which microprocessor ran the PC they owned. Now that AMD seems at last to be narrowing the gap between itself and Intel, and there is an element of serious competition in the chip marketplace, perhaps there is even less reason for both to continue with the branding and the megahertz nonsense. AMD, however, has still some work to do to persuade the corporate marketplace that its family of chip products is just as good as Intel's. There's no doubt that while there may be technical differences between the chips which may be appreciated by the aficionado, the vast majority of consumers probably don't care that much. And that will probably benefit the Taiwanese entrant Via, which has snapped up IDT Centaur and Cyrix technology and which is forecasting sales of 15 million x.86 parts during the course of this year. If the chips are cheap, cheerful, and work, then most people won't notice the difference, just as long as their favourite software runs kind of OK on the platform. After all, it can't be that long before x.86 processors cost little more than a penny.... ®

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