The performance gap between Intel and its rivals will shrink by a large margin when the next generation of PC chips hits the market later this year.
According to independent benchmark figures released last week, AMD's K6 chip, which the company is due to announce tomorrow, comes a very close second to Intel's Pentium II (formerly the Klamath), despite a slower clock speed.
The tests, carried out by the US edition of PC World magazine, put a K6-PR2-233 behind an Intel Pentium II 266-MHz by just "a small margin".
The Pentium II scored 260 against the WorldBench benchmark, a 10% increase over the Pentium Pro 200, the previous fastest. No absolute figures were given for the K6 because it is still an unannounced product. Brendon Sherry, European marketing director for rival chip maker Cyrix, said: "I'm not surprised, the gap is definitely closing."
Despite the figures, AMD may continue to struggle against Intel. History has shown that the company has difficulty shipping product in volume, a fact not lost on Intel.
Joe D'elia, a senior analyst at Dataquest, said the benchmark results confirmed what he had been expecting. But he doubted AMD would have volume production problems. "They've (AMD) waited long enough and have geared up for this. They are ready to produce in capacity," D'elia said.
Ironically, both AMD and Cyrix will be relying on Intel for the success of their new chips. As D'elia explained: "Pentium motherboards use socket 7 to mount Pentium chips, which is the only socket the K6 and Cyrix's M2 can use. When Intel pulls socket 7 away in 1998, the industry will not want to support the different technologies. So once the Pentium goes down next year, things are going to get tough for both AMD and Cyrix."
Intel needs to get rid of the Pentium as quickly as possible if it is to successfully fight off the fresh competition from AMD and Cyrix. D'elia believes Pentium will be killed off in about nine months, a period he referred to as a "window of opportunity". Expect to see the price of the Pentium flatten over the next three to six months, with the price of a low-end Pentium Pro brought down to the same price as a Pentium 133MHz.
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