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1/20/2006
12:25 PM
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Dawn Of Dual Core

Intel and AMD will introduce more of these powerful processors this year as they go mainstream in a big way

Details are hard to come by, but these plans likely will include a dual-core mobile CPU in the first half of 2006 and a new socket, code-named Socket S, in the second half.

Fortunately for AMD, its current processors--including the dual-core X2 line--tend to outperform Intel at the low, midrange, and high end of the CPU spectrum. Will Intel's switch to 65 nanometer change this? Possibly. This should make for an interesting and competitive year.

One of AMD's key pushes this year is neither a new processor architecture nor a new fabricating process but rather new virtualization technology code-named Pacifica. Technically, Pacifica debuted at the end of last year, but it will only begin to appear in new AMD CPU releases--Opteron, Turion 64, Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64, and Mobile Athlon 64 products--this year.

Virtualization is a way to run multiple operating systems, or multiple instances of the same operating system, on a single computer. Intel released its own virtualization technology last year. This technology is a boon for software developers and will boost security and reduce scaling costs for servers. Virtualization also has benefits for desktop PC users--imagine running both Windows and Linux applications at the same time.

Reducing The Hit
Beyond enabling virtualization, a big component of Pacifica is to reduce the performance hit that the technology carries with it.

AMD's biggest news will come midyear when its new socket becomes available. Originally code-named M2, this 940-pin socket will allow Athlon 64-based systems to use speedier DDR2 memory and will result in a marked improvement in CPU and system performance. Recent Internet reports have indicated that the new socket won't be released with the M2 name or the Socket F moniker that also has been used but will be named Socket AM2.

Whatever its name, shortly after the new socket debuts, AMD will release processors in the Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64, and Sempron lines for it. In line with the new socket's unbuffered DDR2 support, each of these new processors will feature onboard DDR2 memory controllers.

AMD's New Processors
Over the course of the year, AMD likely will release processors in these four product lines:

>> Athlon 64 X2: The pride of the chipmaker's CPU arsenal is the dual-core X2 line, and it appears that early this year the company will release an Athlon 64 X2 5000+ clocked at 2.6 GHz. We should see the same processor for the new DDR2-enabled M2 socket later in the year.

>> Athlon 64 FX: Not surprisingly, Athlon's high-end performance line will receive at least one and probably two upgrades this year. In January, AMD released the Athlon 64 FX-60, a speedy dual-core with each core running at 2.6 GHz. Like other FX series processors, the CPU has a massive 1-Mbyte L2 cache. Based on early testing, it appears the FX-60 and Intel's new 955XE are very close in terms of performance. Although AMD isn't talking, we wouldn't be surprised if the company releases another dual-core FX processor, the FX-61, in the second half of the year.

>> Athlon 64: Again, AMD has been quiet regarding the future of its base line of Athlon 64 processors. With the focus on the X2 line of dual-core processors, single-core Athlon 64s appear to be taking a backseat. However, it appears that AMD will release the 4000+, 3800+, and 3500+ series of processors for its new DDR2-enabled M2 socket in the year's second half.

>> Sempron:To capture more of the low-end market, AMD is prepping numerous releases in its "value" Sempron category. In the first half of 2006, we should see the debut of Sempron 3500+, 3600+, and 3700+ CPUs. These new processors will feature 64-bit extensions. In the second half of the year, AMD should release an AM2-based Sempron processor code-named Manila. This processor won't include Pacifica virtualization capabilities, but it will include a dual-channel DDR2 memory controller--that's a big deal for a value CPU.

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