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AMD Unveils A Quad-Core Desktop Processor

The Phenom product line should ship in the second half of the year, the same timeframe as its Barcelona quad-core processor for servers, the chipmaker said.

Advanced Micro Devices on Monday introduced a quad-core microprocessor for the desktop, setting its sights on the gaming industry, creative professional, and the PC enthusiast looking for the latest in technology.

The Phenom product line ships in the second half of the year, the same timeframe as a server quad-core processor, codenamed Barcelona. The latter will be part of AMD's Opteron product line.

Phenom will come in dual-core and quad-core versions. While pricing has not been disclosed, they will be priced higher than current desktop products. AMD sells a dual-core Athlon microprocessor.

Dual-core processors are expected to meet the needs of mainstream PC users for quite sometime. Quad-core processors are being introduced now as the future platform for playing videogames on the PC, and for someday streaming high-definition content from the Internet to the TV through a home media server. The high-end processors are also expected to find a place in workstations used in computer-assisted design, or in video editing, or animation.

During a pre-launch news conference on Friday, AMD executives spent lots of time demonstrating the better graphics quality of a videogame running on a Phenom-powered PC running Windows Vista, which contains Microsoft's latest collection of application programming interfaces for game programming and video. "You can't get DirectX 10 without Vista, so Vista is going to be very important for us," Rick Bergman, senior VP of AMD's graphics products group, said.

There are no PC games currently available for a quad-core platform, but developers are expected to start making them in the near future to take advantage of the technology's better graphics capabilities when used with DirectX 10. Games shown on Friday were significantly more detailed than those played on dual-core systems. Fur and hair, for example, looked more realistic, along with background shots, such as leaves fluttering in trees.

Phenom alone is not expected to pull AMD out of its current financial doldrums. Last month, the chipmaker reported a net loss in the first quarter of $611 million, while revenues year to year fell 7% to $1.23 billion. AMD, which had gained market share over the last couple of years, suffered in the quarter from a price war with its larger rival Intel, and the merger with graphics chipmaker ATI Technologies, which AMD acquired last year for $5.4 billion. In addition, Intel started delivering more competitive products.

To keep up with Intel, analysts suggest AMD had to release a quad-core desktop product this year. At about the same timeframe, Intel plans to release a competing microprocessor, code-named Yorkfield. "(Phenom) is important to keep them in the race, but it's not going to give them any kind of knockout against Intel," Martin Reynolds, analyst for Gartner, said of AMD.

Without independent testing, it's impossible to say which microprocessor will perform better. AMD claims its quad-core is better because it has all four core processing units on one piece of silicon, while Intel's is actually two integrated dual-core CPUs.

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