If your interest in AMD's first desktop quad-core processors was piqued by Monday's announcement of the Phenom X4 9500 and 9600, then you'll like what the scrappy semiconductor maker has up its sleeve for release early next year. Three new processors are on the way, most notably a 3.0-GHz Phenom due in the second quarter of 2008.The two devices unveiled this week -- the 2.2-GHz 9500 and 2.3-GHz 9600 -- will be joined by two faster cousins in the first quarter. Those will be the 2.4-GHz Phenom X4 9700 and the 2.6-GHz Phenom X4 9900.
Beyond those two new Phenoms, a third, faster processor -- running at 3.0-GHz -- is due in the second quarter of 2008. That'll make for five Phenoms all together by Q2 of next year.
As I've noted in "Inside AMD's Phenom And Opteron Quad-Core Architectures," Phenom is notable not only because it's AMD's first desktop quad core, but also because it incorporates the company's new 10h architecture.
The design features important enhancements, such as new instructions, improved floating-point execution units, faster data transfer between floating-point and general-purpose registers, and 1-Gbyte paging, to name a few. The 10h architecture also incorporates optimization to make AMD's hardware-based virtualization run faster.
However, in launching Phenom, AMD is coming late into a market where Intel has offered desktop quads for quite a while now. As well, Intel last week released its 45-nm Penryn family and its first 45-nm desktop quad in the form of the Core 2 Extreme QX9650.
So AMD has some stiff competition ahead, and its task isn't made any easier by the fact that Phenom is dribbling out days before Thanksgiving. To be fair, some are suggesting that the Phenom announcement is coming so late in the year because, while AMD has committed to a 2007 shipping date, quantities rolling out of its fabs are still sparse. So, AMD is technically meeting its 2007 target date, but the real ramp up won't occur until early next year. Whatever; these are still processors to watch.
AMD's Phenom desktop quad-core processors are available at Directron.com. (Click picture to enlarge.)
The other angle is that, earlier this year, I expected AMD to trumpet Phenom in an unveiling in which it alone was in the spotlight. However, AMD has chosen to make Phenom just one leg of a broader announcement of a platform called Spider, which includes ATI's Radeon HD 3800 Series graphics cards.
On the one hand, chatting up the platform enables AMD to highlight the new graphics cards from ATI. This answer critics who've complained that AMD hasn't said enough about its plans for ATI since its high-profile purchase of the graphics-card maker in 2006.
At the same time, the Spider-oriented news in some sense downplays the importance of Phenom. Which is a shame, because these devices are important. Consider that they're the only X86 competition to Intel's new Penryn family. Sure, Penryn is fabricated at 45-nm, and Phenom is still 65 nm. However, Phenom implements AMD's new 10h architecture, whereas Intel won't launch its next microarchitecture until 2009.
My point is, if you really believe competition is healthy, then you should welcome this kind of competition. (That's a tautology, but what isn't mildly confusing when it comes to dual- and quad-core processors?)
In closing, here are some interesting slides which AMD made available in conjunction with the Phenom and Spider announcement.
Slide from AMD's Phenom quad-core processor and Spider graphics platform announcement on November 19, 2007. (Click picture to enlarge, and to see more Phenom slides.)
Slide from AMD's Phenom quad-core processor and Spider graphics platform announcement on November 19, 2007. (Click picture to enlarge, and to see more Spider slides.)