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AMD K5


The AMD K5 processor: Image courtesy of AMD Corporation

In 1993 Intel set the pace of PC processor development with the release of its radical 5th generation processor design, the Pentium. It allowed Intel to move away from its competitors AMD and Cyrix who had developed some excellent versions of its 386 and 486 designs. This coupled with Intel's possession of its own designs meant that AMD and Cyrix had to develop indipendent 5th generation chips in order to avoid being left behind.

In the short term AMD did well with its AM486 range and pushed its development to impressive levels with its 133 MHz 586 design which was competative with the Pentium 60. This though was only a stop gap measure and AMD had to develop their own design, and thus the need for the K5 was great.

The AMD K5, a much underrated chip

Like the Intel Pentium, the K5 was a superscalar design meaning that it had more than one execution unit per processor. This allowed it too to make the quantum leap in performance over the 486 which was common with 5th generation designs. It too was also pin compatible with the then prevailing Socket 5 and 7 motherboard connectors. This allowed it to run in the same motherboards as the Pentium itself.

Unfortunatly the K5 was seen as being something of a poor performer by the Computer Press and the PC buying public alike. This lead to it having very poor sales compared to both the Pentium and the Cyrix 6x86. Much of this was to do with the K5 falling severly behind on its development schedule (something AMD has not yet completely solved in its later designs), with it being eventually deliverad 9 monthes late. This meant that AMD only had its 75, 90 and 100 MHz designs released at around the time Intel released the Pentium 166 in early 1996.

The early K5's were criticised for being slow and for having a high heat output. This AMD tried to solve by re-designing the K5 which was released in PR 120, 133 & 166 guises. Unfortunatly AMD were never able to overcome the K5's heat problem and so had to resort to the same P Rating that Cyrix was using with the 6x86. Although the K5's clock speed never rose above 116.5 MHz (PR 166) its performance did improve somewhat. Its business performance was equivalent to an Intel Pentium and its FPU was not completely shamed by its more illustrious counterpart, this lead to a great processor bargain for those on a tight budget.

The K5 never gained the respect it deserved mainly because it was just too late. By the time the PR166 was released in 1997 even AMD's attention had shifted to the forthcoming K6 and thus the K5 was destined to disappear quickly once production had begun.


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