Thunderbird lives on
Like both Athlon 1.2GHz CPUs we tested last October, the Athlon 1.3GHz and 1.33GHz are based on AMD's "Thunderbird" core originally introduced last June. With Thunderbird, AMD moved the processor's L2 cache onto the core itself. Specifically, AMD's Thunderbird core contains 256K of 16-way set associative memory. By increasing the associativity of the cache, the chances of the processor finding the data it needs in memory is increased. If the processor can't locate the data in cache it must look in system memory, followed by the system hard drive itself. Each instance it can't find the data is referred to as a "miss" and takes extra time. This can eventually lead to stalling the processor entirely.
The final improvement made to the Thunderbird cache is its architecture; unlike the implementation on its original core, Thunderbird uses an exclusive cache architecture. This results in improved space efficiency. For more details on AMD's Thunderbird core, please refer to our performance preview from last year.
Now that 1.33GHz is out of the way, what's next for AMD? Later this year the company plans to release their next iteration of the Athlon core, codenamed "Palomino." While Palomino will be based on a similar 0.18-micron process as today's Thunderbird, the core will be redesigned to lower both power consumption and the amount of heat generated by the processor. Rumors have also circulated claiming that Palomino will boast larger cache sizes and/or longer pipelines, but AMD hasn't confirmed these reports to date.
While Palomino was originally slated to be introduced this quarter, production has now slipped to the third quarter of this year. According to AMD, Palomino will be launched at speeds of 1.5GHz or higher, opening the door for at least one more Thunderbird launch at 1.4GHz if necessary.
Another system shot
Let's take a look at the latest processor prices for AMD's Athlon line. Keep in mind that these are the prices AMD charges its direct customers in 1,000 unit quantities:
|Athlon Prices in 1,000 unit quantities (source: AMD)
As you can see, prices for Athlon processors below 1.3GHz have remained unchanged from the price cuts implemented earlier this month. In fact, AMD currently prices both processors right in the middle of prices Intel's asking price for its 1.3GHz Pentium 4 (currently priced at $332). At $204 for the 200MHz 1GHz Athlon and $224 for the 266MHz 1GHz Athlon, the AMD CPUs are less expensive than the 1GHz Pentium III by 15% and 7% respectively.
As usual, AMD charges a slight premium for 133MHz parts. Later on in this review, you'll see just how much performance the added 9% in price brings to the table.
If you're looking to purchase a 266MHz Athlon, make sure to read the fine print. Many online retailers refer to 266MHz parts as Athlon "C" to denote the new labeling used by AMD to distinguish processors with the faster bus. You can find more details about this in our 1.2GHz preview from last October.
Shipments of the 1.3GHz and 1.33GHz Athlon have already commenced to both the OEM and retail channels. Unlike the 266MHz 1.2GHz Athlon, supplies of 1.3/1.33GHz processors should begin hitting store shelves any day now (we've already seen numerous reports of 1.3GHz parts in Japan).