Just when we thought Intel had a lock on the high end of the x86-compatible marketplace, in came AMD with its formidable AMD Athlon chip. A talented design team led by Dirk Meyer created this processor, based on an entirely new core. Like the Pentium II and III, the Athlon is mounted in a module with separate SRAM chips for the L2 cache, and it has a special bus that connects the processor to the L2 cache chips. As with Intel's current processors, the L2 cache has a size of 512K, and the interface runs at half of the processor's clock speed.
The Athlon's design has several advantages over the Pentium III. The Athlon has four times the L1 cache of the Pentium III, can execute more RISC-like internal instructions per cycle, and can often decode more x86 instructions at a time. AMD's chip even beats the Pentium III in floating-point processing by a substantial margin. The Athlon uses a 200-MHz system bus, based on the Alpha 21264 bus, providing headroom for faster memory subsystems. Eventually, it may be used in everything from portables to multiprocessor units. For now, it's the chip that battles Intel for top PC performance.