New Chip, Same Standard
7th time's the charm
Despite its modest slotted appearance, there's a lot going on inside the Athlon that makes it not only a CPU to watch, but an architecture worth noting. Remember that the Athlon isn't simply a reduction in manufacturing size or a slight ramping of clock speed. The Athlon is a brand new microprocessor design, engineered "from the ground up" to execute x86 instructions as fast as possible.
AMD's engineers have for the last few years been engaged in the relentless pursuit of the "faster than Intel CPU." They've always inched closer to that goal with each rev of K6 processor released, and the K6-3 actually enjoys a significant lead over the Pentium III in business applications.
I want my FPU
Unfortunately, in today's world, it can be argued that integer performance is at an all-time low. The killer app of 1999 is 3D, and where 3D is involved, floating point is king. The entire K6 series has been based on a well-designed but rarely optimized low-latency floating point unit. Seeing that a theoretical good design is less influential in practice, AMD's engineers have returned to the drawing board, and are now attempting to prove they know jack, by creating the most powerful floating point unit ever seen in an x86 CPU.
AMD's engineers haven't forgotten about integer performance, either. Although nobody can accuse them of slacking in this area, AMD's underdog status requires that they succinctly trounce the incumbent in order to gain market share. What's more, they'll have to prove that they can keep up in scalability. Intel has been widely known to put out processors that are slower than their competitors (clock for clock), but can consistently ramp up in speed to make up for the difference. Add to this AMD's historic inability to deliver on demand, and we've got a chip with a lot of potential and even more skeptics.