A CPU History


AMD Athlon (1999 – Present)


With the release of the Athlon processor in 1999, AMD’s status in the high performance realm was placed in concrete. The Athlon line continues to this day, with the highest clock speeds all operating off of various designs and improvements off of the Athlon series. But, the whole line started with the original Athlon classic. The original Athlon came at 500MHz. Designed at a 0.25 micron level, the chip boasted a super-pipelined, superscalar microarchitecture. It contained nine execution pipelines, a super-pipelined FPU and an again-enhanced 3dNow technology. These issues all rolled into one gave Athlon a real performance reputation. One notable feature of the Athlon is the new Slot interface. While Intel could play games by patenting Slot 1, AMD decided to call the bet by developing a Slot of their own – Slot A. Slot A looks just like Slot 1, although they are not electrically compatible. But, the closeness of the two interfaces allowed motherboard manufacturers to more easily manufacturer mainboard PCBs that could be interchangeable. They would not have to re-design an entire board to accommodate either Intel or AMD – they could do both without too much hassle.


Also notable with the release of Athlon was the entirely new system bus. AMD licensed the Alpha EV6 technology from Digital Equipment Corporation. This bus operated at 200MHz, faster than anything Intel was using. The bus had a bandwidth capability of 1.6 GB/s.


Athlon has gone through revisions and improvements and is still being used and marketed. In June of 2000, AMD released the Athlon Thunderbird. This chip came with an improved 0.18 micron design, on-die full speed L2 cache (new for Athlon), DDR RAM support, etc. It is a real workhorse of a chip and has a reputation for being able to be pushed well beyond the speed rating as assigned by AMD. Overclocker’s paradise. Thunderbird was also released in Socket A (or Socket 462) format, so AMD was now returning to its socketed roots just as Intel had already done by this time.


In May 2001, AMD released Athlon “Palomino”, also dubbed the Athlon 4. While the Athlon had now been out for about 2 years, it was now being beaten by Intel’s Pentium IV. The direct competition of the Pentium III was on its way to the museum already, and Athlon needed a boost to keep up with the new contender. The answer was the new Palomino core. The original intention of Palomino was to expand off of the Thunderbird chip, by reducing heat and power consumption. Due to delays, it was delayed and it ended up being beneficial. The chip was released first in notebook computers. AMD-based notebooks, until this time, were still using K6-2′s and K6-3′s and thus AMD’s reputation for performance in the mobile market was lacking. So, Athlon 4 brought AMD to the line again in the mobile market. Athlon 4 was later released to the desktop market, workstations, and multiprocessor servers (with its true dual processor support). Palomino made use of a data pre-fetch cache predictor and a translation look-aside buffer. It also made full use of Intel’s SSE instruction set. The chip made use of AMD’s PowerNow! technology, which had actually been around since the K6-2 and 3 days. It allows the chip to change its voltage requirements and clock speed depending on the usage requirement of the time. This was excellent for making the chip appropriate for power-sensitive apps such as mobile systems.


When AMD released the Palomino to the desktop market in October of 2001, they renamed the chip to Athlon XP, and also took on a slightly different naming jargon. Due to the way Palomino executes instructions, the chip can actually perform more work per clock cycle than the competition, namely Pentium IV. Therefore, the chips actually operate at a slower clock speed than AMD makes apparent in the model numbers. They chose to name the Athlon XP versions based on the speed rating of the processor as determined by AMD and their own benchmarking. So, for example, the Athlon XP 1600+ performs at 1.4 GHz, but the average computer user will think 1.6 GHz, which is what AMD wants. But, this is not to say that AMD is tricking anybody. In fact, these chips to perform like the Thunderbird at the rated speed, and perform quite well when stacked against the Pentium IV. In fact, the Athlon XP 1800+ can out-perform the Pentium IV at 2 GHz. Besides the naming, the XP was basically the same as the mobile Palomino released a few months earlier. It did boast a new packaging style that would help AMD’s release of 0.13 micron design chips later on. It also operated on the 133MHz front-side bus (266MHz when DDR taken into account). AMD continued to use the Palomino core until the release of the Athlon XP 2100+, which was the last Palomino.


In June of 2002, AMD announced the 0.13 micron Thoroughbred-based 2200+ processor. The move was more of a financial one, since there are no real performance gains between Palomino and Thoroughbred. Nonetheless, the smaller more means AMD can product more of them per silicon wafer, and that just makes sense. AMD is really taunting everyone with news of the coming ClawHammer core, which will be AMD’s next big move. But, with that chip still in the development and testing phase at this point, ClawHammer is not yet ready. Until it is, AMD will keep us mildly entertained with Thoroughbred and keep Intel sweating.

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Comments

  1. Your Notes are very clear and Excelent. If you can update to current, it is very good.

    Thank you

  2. Your notes have helped me a lot about something i’ve been looking for in the past week.your Your notes are excelent thanx

  3. Just to point out that you state the 80186 never made it into a personal computer, however i owned a 186 system around 1992 that was made my Research Machines.
    Just thought you would like to know.

    • There was also a Tandy / Radio Shack PC that used an 80186. Just one model that didn’t last for more than a year. Their usual black and silver case. I can’t swear that it was 100% compatible with the usual instruction sets that software depended on.

      • Hugh Wyn Griffith says:

        That Tandy 186 was the Tandy 2000 and its graphics were not 100% compatible with Windows much to the distress of users (I was one when I bought my first “almost-PC” in the UK back in the ’90′s). This caused a lot of ill feeling between users and Tandy. The Users Group launched a monthly called “Orphans” and hated Ed Juge (who died recently) the then CEO of Tandy for not providing any support.

        I was amused a few years ago when Googling on Tandy 2000 to pull up a full page advert for it from one of the well known magazines at that time in which Bill Gates lauded it saying how much his programmers depended on it for its performance! Might explain some of Windows problems if they were using a non-conforming PC !

    • u probably have the one that was made in 1990 then that was the 1 that did make it in2 the personal computer as is later stated in there

  4. The 5×86 was not AMD’s answer to the Pentium, the P5 was. The 5×86 was made to offer a greater performance boost to the millions of 486 PC’s out there, as it would work in (almost) any 486 motherboard with a socketed CPU or overdrive socket.

  5. Chris, It doesn’t say it was AMD’s answer. It was their “competitive response to Intel’s Pentium-class processor”
    on a 486 motherboard.

    Also, not mentioned is why Intel went from a number designation to a name title, the number, was actually the stock number. As I was told by a Intel Rep. at a Comdex show (Vegas) ’94-’95. As Intel tried to sue AMD for copy right infringement. Like a fragrance, you can’t CR. the recipe only the name. They lost on the grounds, you can’t copy right a stock number (80486)! So they, Intel started using name designation (Pentium). As well as AMD did the same.

  6. This is great, im supposed to be at work, but im reading this, just spent quite a while reading it. Its very interesting, Thank You

  7. Bill Buchanan says:

    Correction to information provided on the Intel 80186 (1980).
    This Processor was used in one desk top system but the system did not sell well. The company was Tandy and the model was Tandy 2000. There is a very good page at: http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=1219 covering the processor.

  8. Mick Russom says:

    Acorn’s Master 512 PC had a 10MHz 80186 CPU which ran MS-DOS and GEM. I would say this qualifies it as a “PC” running a 80186 running MS-DOS.

  9. Sandy Jelusic says:

    I have at home an pc desktop powered by an 8088 at 3.5 mhz with turbo mode, black-yellow monitor, 20mb disk and only 5.25” floppy. As for dos I think it’s ibm-dos. Not really certain.

  10. Very knowledgeful. Please update with latest changes.

  11. Really your services are good we like it please keep it up.

  12. chelle-marie says:

    that is great i loved the little joke:

    “The following chips are considered the dinosaurs of the computer world. PC’s based on these processors are the kind that usually sit around in the garage or warehouse collecting dust. They are not of much use anymore, but us geeks don’t like throwing them out because they still work. You know who you are.”

    sounds just like my tech teacher becouse he is always complaining about how things have changed and shows us pictures from back when computers still used tapes and how he used to get paid to change the tapes every two hours for a hospitle

  13. Mary Alice Thauvette says:

    This article was posted 23-Mar-01. That was nine years ago. It is time to update the article. Or, at least change the title of the last section from :1999 – Present” to “1999 – March 2001″

  14. what is the significances of the number like 8086 in the processor

  15. thanks for the notess

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