Duron: The little engine that could
Looking back, it's hard to believe that just a year ago, 800MHz was the highest clock speed AMD offered. Where did all the time go? Today, AMD's latest value processor (the Duron) runs 50MHz faster and costs just over $100 at some online retailers!
Normally, when you see the word "value" applied to PC hardware you think sub par performance. However, with AMD's Duron processor this isn't the case. In conventional Office applications you'll hardly notice the difference between the Duron and Athlon processor. In more stressful applications such as 3D games, the Duron trails the Athlon by 8-12%, depending on the game.
With so much performance, Duron easily outpaces Intel's budget Celeron processor on a clock-for-clock basis. In our tests, we've found the Celeron trails the Duron by 20-30%, again depending on the application. Considering this, you'd naturally assume the Duron would be selling well in the value market. It runs faster than its competition, and to make it even more appealing costs about 25% less.
The Socket A infrastructure
However, the infrastructure behind the Duron hasn't been as supportive. In the retail sector, there are still many Intel-based consumers out there with BX motherboards. For these users, a simple CPU swap is all that's necessary to reach the latest clock speeds. If this same person wanted to switch sides to AMD, they'd have to purchase a CPU and motherboard. Fortunately, retail prices on KT133 motherboards have dropped considerably, and with its successor (KT133A) set for release shortly, KT133 prices will continue to drop in the near future.
Things have been even bleaker for Duron in the OEM segment. While a considerable number of PC manufacturers have announced Duron systems, the processor hasn't caught on as rapidly with Tier One vendors as AMD's high-end Athlon. This can be blamed on two things.
First, the Duron was released too late for Tier One PC manufacturers to ship in summer back-to-school PCs. As a result, AMD was forced to slash Athlon prices to continue to pressure Intel's market share.
The second problem Duron has faced was lack of an integrated chipset. In the value segment, systems with integrated chipset graphics are the norm. PC manufacturers skip the cost of add-in graphics and pass those savings on to the consumer. Since the KT133 chipset used in Duron systems doesn't offer integrated graphics, PC manufacturers were required to purchase graphics cards for their Duron systems. Recently, both VIA and SiS have released their chipsets with integrated graphics, KM133 and 730S, respectively. To date, only Compaq plans to ship systems based on one of these chipsets, it will be interesting to see if Gateway and IBM follow suit.