Updating Your Cheat Sheet on Barton, Prescott, and the Hammers

Unlike carmakers, CPU vendors don’t just introduce the 2003 models in the fall of 2002 — they add new processors all year long (which is good), as well as tantalizing tech fans by busily leaking information about products that won’t really ship until 2004 or 2005 (which is bad).

With the new year just around the corner, we’ve decided it’s time to update a couple of earlier CPU Planet features — notably, early October’s guide to CPU codenames — with a more selective look at what’ll happen (well, what we’re reasonably sure will happen) in the PC processor market in 2003.

Did you know, for instance, that Intel’s Pentium 4 successor “Prescott” has been pushed back, but the P4 will be getting a monstrously fast front-side bus upgrade in the meantime? Or the latest clarifications to AMD’s much-anticipated, often-confusing Hammer family? Let’s refresh your cheat sheet and IT buying plans with this brief guide.


Call it a collectible: Today’s Athlon XP 2800+, allocated in limited quantities to selected game-PC manufacturers, is the last of the “Thoroughbred B” line that debuted with the Athlon XP 2400+ and 2600+ in August. In the first quarter of 2003, the revised Athlon XP codenamed “Barton” will appear, built on the same 0.13-micron process but doubling the Level 2 cache to 512K.

Likely to debut with a 2800+ model number, Barton will use the same 333MHz bus now available in the Athlon XP 2600+ and above, though there’s speculation AMD will bump it up to a 400MHz bus later. The company expects this chip to be going strong right through to the end of 2003, sharing fourth-quarter desktop sales fifty-fifty with the premium Athlon 64.

The latter, still best known by the codename “ClawHammer,” will make its long-awaited debut — performance-labeled as a 3200+ or 3400+ chip, with a clock speed of around 2GHz — in the late first or early second quarter of 2003. The single-processor desktop member of AMD’s eighth-generation, 64-bit Hammer CPU family, it’ll combine 0.13-micron process with silicon-on-insulator (SOI) construction — 90-nanometer Hammers have been pushed back to the first half of ’04.

Some Athlon 64s will have 128K of L1 and 256K of L2 cache, while others will have 1MB of L2. Like all Hammer processors, they’ll run both existing 32- and new 64-bit operating systems and applications. A mobile Athlon 64 for laptops is likely in the second half of 2003.

Being meant for uniprocessor systems, the Athlon 64 will contain a single 16-bit HyperTransport link for up to 6.4GB/sec of data transfer, as well as — at least according to AMD’s latest presentations — a single-channel, 72-bit DDR266/333 (PC2700) memory controller. This integrated design, which no one would have criticized had Hammer shipped six months ago, may prove sticky in a few months’ time with Intel exploiting the flexibility of external (chipset rather than CPU) memory controllers to leapfrog to the higher bandwidth of dual-channel DDR400. AMD’s Microprocessor Forum slide shows in October said tersely that the Hammer family will have “future memory technology support as it is defined,” with later processor cores planned to support DDR-II or what have you.

The Athlon 64’s multiprocessor workstation and server sibling is the AMD Opteron, the one- to eight-way CPU formerly known as “SledgeHammer” that’ll also debut in the late first or early second quarter. Opterons will carry 1MB of Level 2 cache and three HyperTransport links; their integrated memory controller is currently described as a dual-channel DDR266/333 design.


Today’s Pentium 4 “Northwood” — the desktop CPU built on an 0.13-micron process, incorporating a small Level 1 and 512K Level 2 cache — is going to keep its job as Intel’s flagship for almost another year, until the fourth quarter of 2003. That seems like a long time, but Intel is feeling flush since last month’s triumphant introduction of the 3.06GHz Pentium 4 with Hyper-Threading — and will be working hard to push that enhanced-multitasking-performance, one-CPU-that-software-sees-as-two technology into the mainstream, adding it to new, more affordable Pentium 4 models with clock speeds from 2.4GHz to 2.8GHz.

Also, after marching in double-quick time from 2.2GHz to 3.06GHz last year, Intel will slow to a stroll in terms of raising Pentium 4 clock speeds — look for a 3.2GHz chip in the second quarter of 2003, but maybe no more than 3.4GHz by year’s end.

But the company is moving aggressively in terms of supporting faster memory: Having boosted the Pentium 4’s front-side bus from 400MHz to 533MHz, Intel is now vaulting right over its originally planned next step of 667MHz and will introduce 800MHz (quad-pumped 200MHz) front-side bus Pentium 4s, tailor-made for dual-channel DDR400 memory, at a variety of clock speeds in Q2 2003. The old 400MHz-bus chips, already fading fast, will vanish, with The Inquirer reporting that Intel’s estimates show the speedy 800MHz bus climbing from 20 percent of second-quarter CPU shipments to over 60 percent by the fourth quarter.

As for Prescott, the 0.09-micron (90-nanometer) heir to Northwood is now slated to debut in the fourth quarter of 2003, with a healthy 1MB of Level 2 cache and core speed of at least 3.2GHz (sports fans are still hoping for 4GHz). It, too, will ride an 800MHz bus.

While the Pentium 4 is still king of Intel’s desktop castle, the mobile Pentium 4 will enter the valley of the shadow with the appearance of the new, designed-specially-for-notebooks “Banias” processor (accompanied by a slew of mobile chipsets and 802.11a and 802.11b wireless networking products) in the first quarter of 2003. That said, it looks like an awfully long valley or gradual replacement — Intel roadmaps indicate the Pentium 4M will accelerate to 2.6GHz or more, possibly 3.06GHz and possibly with Hyper-Threading, by next fall, before actually retiring in 2004.

As for the 0.13-micron, battery-saving Banias, it’s slated to debut at 1.3GHz to 1.6GHz, with a 400MHz system bus and 1MB of L2 cache. There’ll probably be a 1.7GHz Banias in the third quarter, but by Q4 the chip will have proven to be just a placeholder for the 90-nanometer “Dothan” version, which should have the same 400MHz bus but a 1.8GHz core speed and 2MB of Level 2 cache.


We can’t talk about Banias without at least mentioning what Transmeta Corp. was touting at last month’s Comdex Fall trade show as its “Banias killer” — the all-new TM8000 or “Astro” mobile processor.

To be sure, the buzz Transmeta enjoyed in 1999 and 2000 has died to a whisper as the power-saving-CPU company stumbled in ramping up its TM5800, spiked its TM6000, and suffered the wrath of Intel in the form of a barrage of low-voltage Pentium IIIs. But Astro might change two of the raps against Transmeta if it ships on time in the third quarter of 2003: it’s designed to match instead of lagging behind Intel processors’ performance, and get Transmeta into mainstream, normal-sized notebooks as well as its current niche in tiny, thin subnotebooks.

Details are still scarce, but Transmeta claims the 1GHz-plus, 0.13-micron Astro will draw even less power than today’s Crusoe, while completing twice as many instructions per clock cycle (eight instead of four). The prototype shown at Comdex reportedly loaded and ran applications faster than a 1.8GHz mobile Pentium 4; with Banias making a step down in clock speed from the Pentium 4M, the playing field could get awfully level.

Categories: Technology