K7 - Athlon
AMD Athlon Processor Logo.svg
AMD Athlon logo
ProducedFrom June 23, 1999 to 2005
Common manufacturer(s)
  • AMD
Max. CPU clock rate500 MHz to 2.33 GHz
FSB speeds200 MT/s to 400 MT/s
Min. feature size0.25 µm to 0.13 µm
Instruction setx86
Core name(s)
  • Argon (K7)
  • Pluto/Orion (K75)
  • Thunderbird
  • Palomino (Athlon XP, MP)
  • Thoroughbred (Athlon XP, MP, XP-M)
  • Thorton/Barton (Athlon XP, MP, XP-M)
  • Corvette (Athlon 4)
SuccessorAthlon 64

Athlon is the brand name applied to a series of x86-compatible microprocessors designed and manufactured by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The original Athlon (now called Athlon Classic) was the first seventh-generation x86 processor and was the first desktop processor to reach speeds of one gigahertz (GHz). It made its debut on June 23, 1999.

AMD has continued using the Athlon name with the 64-bit Athlon 64 architecture, the Athlon II, and Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) chips targeting the Socket AM1 desktop SoC architecture, and Socket AM4 Zen microarchitecture.[1]

Athlon comes from the Ancient Greek ἆθλον (athlon) meaning "(sport) contest", or "prize of a contest", or "place of a contest; arena".


AMD founder (and then-CEO) Jerry Sanders aggressively pursued strategic partnerships and engineering talent in the late 1990s, desiring to leverage the success AMD had gained in the PC market with the preceding AMD K6 line of processors. One major partnership announced in 1998 paired AMD with semiconductor giant Motorola[2] to co-develop copper-based semiconductor technology, and resulted with the K7 project being the first commercial processor to utilize copper fabrication technology. In the announcement, Sanders referred to the partnership as creating a "virtual gorilla" that would enable AMD to compete with Intel on fabrication capacity while limiting AMD's financial outlay for new facilities.

The K7 design team was led by Dirk Meyer, who had worked as a lead engineer at DEC on multiple Alpha microprocessors during his employment at DEC. When DEC was sold to Compaq in 1998, the company discontinued Alpha processor development. Sanders approached many of the Alpha engineering staff as Compaq/DEC wound down their semiconductor business, and was able to bring in nearly all of the Alpha design team. The K7 engineering design team was thus now consisted of both the previously acquired NexGen K6 team (already including engineers such as Vinod Dham) and the nearly complete Alpha design team.

In August 1999, AMD released the Athlon (K7) processor.

By working with Motorola, AMD was able to refine copper interconnect manufacturing to the production stage about one year before Intel. The revised process permitted 180-nanometer processor production. The accompanying die-shrink resulted in lower power consumption, permitting AMD to increase Athlon clock speeds to the 1 GHz range.[3] Yields on the new process exceeded expectations, permitting AMD to deliver high speed chips in volume in March 2000.

The Athlon architecture also used the EV6 bus licensed from DEC as its main system bus. Intel required licensing to use the GTL+ bus used by its Slot 1 Pentium II and later processors. By licensing the EV6 bus used by the Alpha line of processors from DEC, AMD was able to develop its own chipsets and motherboards, and avoid being dependent on licensing from its direct competitor.

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