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Cyrix: The Other Chip Maker

-- by Jonathan Blackwood

While Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) get buckets of ink for their processor updates, there's another company that'll soon throw its hat into the ring of chips compatible with Intel's MMX technology. Cyrix, the Richardson, Texas-based maverick in the x86 business, is due to begin shipping its new M2 chip in short order. No samples were available for benchmarking at this writing, but the company claims M2-equipped systems will be available to consumers as early as this summer.

Cyrix plans to provide performance similar to Intel's Pentium II for significantly less than the cost of Intel's chip. Look for Cyrix-based systems to be priced in the $1,000-to-$1,500 range.

The M2 is based on Cyrix's 6x86 core and is pin- and chipset-compatible with that processor. While this hardly offers the convenience of the AMD-K6, which is pin- and chipset-compatible with an ordinary Pentium, it does mean the Cyrix processor is easily melded with proven technology. Companies that make 6x86-powered systems can drop in the new processor with little or no retooling.

Value proposition

The original 6x86 chip has found some acceptance among cost-conscious consumers, SOHO and small-business users. Though systems based on that chip are among the least expensive, they offer application performance similar to a 200MHz Pentium machine's-or better.

The M2 should achieve clock speeds of at least 233MHz and will have a 64KB on-chip level 1 cache-equal to the K6 and twice that of the Pentium II. Like those chips, the M2 makes use of the latest branch prediction, speculative execution and out-of-order execution technologies. Its memory management unit has a two-level translation look-aside buffer that can store up to 400 unique addresses; the Pentium Pro, for example, can handle only 96 entries.

Volumes of previous Cyrix chips have been relatively small, but the company's lack of investment in fabrication facilities-IBM will make the 6-million transistor, 0.35-micron chip-keeps it competitive. If consumers can become more comfortable with systems that don't have Intel inside, and if Cyrix's M2 can make its presence felt, then the processor arena could become quite interesting.

Windows Magazine, June 1997, page 54.

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