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 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. 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.