The Cloners Close In On Intel's 486

In yet another challenge to Intel Corp.'s dominance of the microprocessor market, a small Richardson (Tex.) chipmaker is rolling out a family of Intel-compatible chips. Cyrix Corp. says its first offering, the Cx486SLC, mimics Intel's top-of-the-line 486 microprocessor--for $119 per chip in quantity shipments, or 40% less than Intel's cheapest 486 design. Reportedly, the Cyrix chip will also be marketed by heavy hitters such as Texas Instruments Inc. As its first customer, Cyrix has already lined up Montreal's MicroSlate Inc., which produces so-called pentop computers.

Last summer, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., launched a clone of Intel's mainstay 386 chip that has captured an estimated 30% of the 386 market. AMD expects to ship its own 486 workalike late this year. Other rivals making or developing similar clones include Chips & Technologies, Meridian Semiconductor, and NexGen Microsystems.

Intel isn't taking this lying down. In a few months it will unveil its next-generation 586, a veritable mainframe on silicon. And to lock in its customers, Intel is speeding up development of that chip's successors and is being unusually candid in outlining future products, including a turn-of-the-century chip dubbed Micro 2000. It would contain upwards of 60 million transistors, or at least 20 times as many as the upcoming 586, and blaze through 2 billion calculations per second--more than all but a few of today's supercomputers can do.

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