Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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6/25/2007
08:14 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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AMD's Phenom Quad-Cores Pegged For November Debut

Now comes renewed word that AMD's quad-core Phenom desktop processor line is poised to hit the market in November. The news, circulating in stories out of Taipei this weekend, isn't actually anything new--AMD publicly copped to a planned 2H 2007 introduction back in May. But it is stoking industry interest in what looms as a new round in the architectural wars, between AMD's impressive "10h" design and Intel's equally strong "Core"

Now comes renewed word that AMD's quad-core Phenom desktop processor line is poised to hit the market in November. The news, circulating in stories out of Taipei this weekend, isn't actually anything new--AMD publicly copped to a planned 2H 2007 introduction back in May. But it is stoking industry interest in what looms as a new round in the architectural wars, between AMD's impressive "10h" design and Intel's equally strong "Core" families.The Taiwan news about Phenom adds the new details to the previously known general vibe that the line was being put through its early manufacturing paces. For those who were wondering, Phenom is now the official product name for what was previously known by the code name "Agena." (The latter was the name used by the old NASA rockets to lift the Gemini capsules into space.)

AMD appears to be poised to drop three quad Phenom parts and one dual-core Phenom before 2007 is out. Five additional quads and six more dual-core Phenoms will join the family in 2008.

This isn't out of line with anything we've previously been told. Mostly, it's an indication that AMD will move aggressively to replace those members of its Athlon line which no longer represent the cutting edge.

Therefore, expect the top-flight Athlon 64 FX parts like the FX-72 and FX-74 to remain. It's also even likely the AMD will add some new Athlon 64 FX SKUs, with higher clock speeds, to the family.

As for the Athlon X2 line, which qualifies as AMD's "mainstream" dual-core family, the center of gravity appears to be moving away from the tried-and-true 90-nm parts such as the 4X00+, 5X00+ and 6000+ line.

That's not to say anything bad about these parts. I'm writing this on a dual-core, 2.6-GHz 5200+ system, and it's a great performer. It's simply that 90nm dual-core processors with thermal design envelopes of 64-W and up are no longer at the cutting edge. The Athlon X2 action has shifted to 45nm parts fabricated using 65-nm SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology. AMD has already introduced two such chips--the 2.1-GHz BE-2350 and the 1.9-GHz BE-2300. Expect to see more SKUs in roughly the same timeframe as the Phenom intros.

Note than an added sales pitch for Phenom is that it can support two-socket motherboards. This means you will be able to pack eight total physical cores into one desktop (since two sockets with a quad devices in each equals eight).

AMD's 10h architecture will also power some new quad-core Opterons, which will come in at the high end of that server processor family. Back in May, AMD said the quad Barcelonas where supposed to hit sometime "this summer." AMD reinforced that message when I spoke to them in early June. It's interesting that there's been nothing heard about this since, but I'm speculating that that's simply because popularly-driven interest in desktop chips tends to outstrip the lesser buzz on the server side.

With the news leaking out of Taiwan, it's not a stretch to expect that we might hear something in response from the Intel camp. That would only be fair, since Intel is actually shipping quad-core parts right now, while AMD is not.

Intel's got three quad desktop SKUs scattered among its Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme families. On the server side, Intel ships no less than nine quad-core Xeons, in its 5300, low-voltage 5300, and 7300 series.

While I tend not to like dueling processor publicity battles between AMD and Intel, one stark difference strikes me in regards to quad core. When it came to dual-core designs, both vendors expended a huge amount of energy in advance of the availability of any actual chips. On the quad-core front, Intel is shipping today and AMD will be shipping soon.

Which means our architectural battles this time 'round will be reality based, at least to the extent that we can quantitatively compare different architectures, parse the specs by which they'll be publicized, and interpret the benchmarks that'll be touted.

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