The gigahertz chips, Intel's Pentium III and AMD's Athlon, can speed up numerous computer tasks, such as high-end computer games and other complex software. While processor speed is only one measure of a computer's performance, it is one of the main features consumers consider.
The processor is essentially the heart of the computer, performing a certain number of instructions per second. The faster the clock speed of the processor, measured in megahertz, the quicker it goes.
Most consumers now have computers that run at less than 500 megahertz, according to research firm Dataquest adequate for most programs on the market. Analysts believe the additional speed provided by a gigahertz chip, or 1,000 megahertz, will become more necessary as the home computer shifts from being primarily used for word processing and surfing the Internet to a central hub connecting various devices in the home.
AMD unveiled its Athlon processor on Monday, months ahead of schedule, in a symbolic move that coincided with the six-year anniversary of Intel's breaking the 100 megahertz mark.
AMD and Intel have been jockeying back and forth for chip-power supremacy in recent months. AMD beat Intel to the market last month with an 850 megahertz processor, and the two were racing to be first in selling a gigahertz chip.
Intel said Wednesday that its gigahertz chip runs faster than others because it has embedded a special memory subsystem, or cache, that increases the clock speed for processing. In a special benchmark test, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company said its gigahertz chip loaded a number of complex Web pages in 13.1 seconds, versus 15 seconds for its own 800 megahertz chip.
Intel said its chip, which began shipping in limited quantities, also would be priced lower than AMD's, at $990 compared to $1,300