AMD Plans 64-Bit Sempron Processors

AMD is planning a 64-bit version of its Sempron processor, presaging a down-market duel in which the scrappy semiconductor vendor will battle Intel's upcoming 64-bit Celeron D.
AMD is planning a 64-bit version of its Sempron processor, presaging a down-market duel in which the scrappy semiconductor vendor will battle Intel's upcoming 64-bit Celeron D for control of the so-called "value-priced" market segment, where PCs can sell for as little as $300.

"AMD can confirm that we will enable 64-bit capability on the AMD Sempron processor this year," said AMD spokeswoman Cathy Abbinanti.

Abbinanti declined to provide additional details. However, in technical terms, adding 64-bits into Sempron won't be much of a stretch. The feature is already widely deployed throughout AMD's Athlon 64 and Opteron processors. And selected technical documentation, as well as message traffic on AMD user forums, indicates that the company has at least begun folding information on the feature into some of its detailed guides for system designers and programmers.

"The incremental cost of adding 64-bits is negligible," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Techknowledge Strategies in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It's a benefit, because the world is 64-bit ready."

That's a conclusion Intel has also come to, in its plan to bring a similar 64-bit upgrade to its Celeron D family. "Sixty-four bits is coming to our Celeron line in mid 2005," Intel spokeswoman Shannon Love said. However, she stressed that the products, which have been widely written about, have not yet been formally announced.

Such verbal fine-tuning highlights the biggest challenge in reporting about the processor plans of the dueling semiconductor vendors. Namely, so many news stories appear quoting company sources about various upcoming chips that it's often impossible to parse the distinctions between leaks, informal disclosures, and full-blown "formal" announcements.

That's the case for both AMD's 64-bit Sempron and Intel's 64-bit Celeron D, which have both been previously touched on in one form or another. (The two respective lines currently exist in 32-bit form; both were introduced in 2004.)

For example, AMD first teased the availability of 64-bit Semprons in April, when Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager of AMD's microprocessor business unit, told TechWeb that the processors would be forthcoming, but declined to say exactly when.

As for Intel, it first disclosed plans to fold its 64-bit instruction set extensions, called EM64T, into the Celeron line in March at its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco.

More recently, a June version of the confidential processor roadmap that Intel shares with its customers indicates that there will be five separate 64-bit Celeron parts. The processors will have the model-number designations 326, 331, 336, 341, 346, 351, and 355. The devices will have clock speeds of 2.53 GHz, 2.66 GHz, 2.8 GHz, 2.93 GHz, 3.06 GHz, 3.2 GHz, and 3.33 GHz, respectively. The parts will be manufactured using Intel's 90 nm semiconductor fabrication technology, and will fit into the new 775-pin grid-array socket.

Moving forward, analyst Feibus believes that neither the Sempron nor the Celeron D will be able to rely much on its 64-bit abilities to make its way in the market. "The longer term question is, what's the market play?," said Feibus. "Sixty-four bits really isn't the play; price is the play."

In that regard, it appears that even the value segment will contain different price strata. Intel's roadmap shows that the Celeron D models 326 and 331 are aimed at PCs expected to sell for a total system cost of under $400. The model 336 and 341 parts will play in systems selling for between $400 and $599. And the 346 and 351 processors will be applied in PCs above $600 but less than $700.

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