AMD Launches Quad-Core Desktop Chips

The Phenom processor launch was accompanied by AMD's announcement of a platform called Spider for gamers and other computer enthusiasts.
Advanced Micro Devices on Monday launched its first quad-core desktop processors and unveiled a platform called Spider for computer enthusiasts.

The Phenom 9600 and 9500 have clock speeds of 2.3 GHz and 2.2 GHz, respectively, and are AMD's long-awaited answer to Intel's competing quad-core processors that have been shipping for months. Among the difference in the chips is design. AMD has placed all four cores on a single die, while Intel packages two dual-core dies.

In addition, AMD's Phenom uses an integrated memory controller and supports HyperTransport. Intel processors still use older front-side bus technology for addressing memory, but that is expected to change when its releases its Nehalem family of products about a year from now. Today, however, Intel's chips are available with faster clock speeds and the company recently started shipping processors built with the company's next-generation 45-nanometer manufacturing process. AMD expects to continue shipping 65-nanometer chips until the second half of next year.

Spider, which ships early next year, comprises Phenom, AMD's ATI Radeon HD 3800 Series graphics cards, and the AMD 7 Series chipset, which has CrossFireX and OverDrive technology. The platform is built to impress gamers and computer enthusiasts.

The Radeon HD 3800 series supports Microsoft's latest graphics technology, DirectX 10.1, scheduled to ship with service pack 1 for Vista early next year. CrossFireX makes it possible for the 7 Series chipset to support up to four graphics cards, useful for graphics performance and running multiple monitors. OverDrive is AMD's utility for boosting Phenom's clock speed and also includes benchmark and stability testing. The chips fit into AMD's AM2+ socket.

Other high-performance features include Phenom's HyperTransport 3.0 technology, which provides input/output communication of up to 16-Gbytes per second, while the chipset supports PCI Express 2.0, a high-bandwidth computer expansion card interface. The combination of the two makes it possible for Spider to handle high-definition Blu-ray or HD-DVD graphics.

AMD launched its first quad-core chips, code-named Barcelona, in September. The server processors are available under the Opteron brand, and compete with Intel's Xeon chips. In the first quarter of next year, AMD plans to ship a triple-core desktop processor to provide a wider range of options to computer manufacturers. Both the triple-core and quad-core chips are built on the same architecture as AMD's quad-core Opteron processors.

The Phenom 9600 and 9500 are available for $283 and $251, respectively, in 1,000-unit pricing. The ATI Radeon HD 3850 with 256 Mbytes of GDDR3 memory costs $179, and the Radeon HD 3870 with 512 Mbytes of GDDR4 memory sells for $219. The graphics cards started shipping Nov. 15.

Pricing of Phenom, along with the release of the triple-core chip, indicates that AMD is looking to wedge the new products between Intel's more expensive quad-core and less expensive dual core chips, Ian Lao, analyst for In-Stat, said. "That raises some interesting opportunities for AMD."

The price and performance of the AMD chips make them a good value for desktops in the high $700 to low $1,200 range, Lao said.

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