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.
Having four processors on one piece of silicon delivers faster performance because they can access an integrated memory controller directly, as opposed to having to go through a front-side bus. CPU instructions for processing data is stored in memory. "(In Phenom) there are four doors and for cores," Stephen DiFranco, corporate VP of sales and marketing, said. "Our competitor essentially has put a turnstile between all four (cores)."

Despite the design difference, Intel says its products are better because they're built with the company's new 45-nanometer manufacturing process, which can pack more transistors on each chip. AMD currently uses a 65-nanometer process, and isn't scheduled to start switching to 45nm until next year.

Analysts do not expect either company to pull dramatically ahead of the other in performance. AMD's biggest challenge in competing against a far larger rival will be in execution, Reynolds said. The company will need to deliver the right mix of products for desktop and notebooks to satisfy the large number of small computer makers that use their products, as well as giants like Hewlett-Packard and Dell. "They have to be very careful how they map their product to the market in the next few quarters," Reynolds said.

Part of AMD's strategy in keeping computer makers, and motherboard manufacturers happy is an easy upgrade path to Phenom. Phenom dual- and quad-core processors will support AMD's current packet and socket configuration for motherboards, called AM2, along with any chipset currently used with AMD products.

About the same time Phenom ships, AMD will release a new configuration, AM2+, that will contain enhancements specific to the quad-core design, David Schwarzbach, marketing manager for AMD's desktop division, said. The company also will ship a new chipset, called the 790. Enhancements in AM2+ include the ability to allocate power and memory to individual processors, depending on their needs in accomplishing particular tasks.

In upgrading a motherboard for Phenom, however, OEMs or power users will need to upgrade the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). AMD is offering what it calls a "hybrid BIOS" that can be used with AMD Athlon and Phenom. This is expected to be the option most companies use. A BIOS specific for Phenom will be released with AM2+ configurations, along with a new motherboard reference design, codenamed Wahoo.

Improvements in Phenom in comparison to older AMD chips include a doubling of the floating point unit to 128 bits, and a shared L3 cache reserve, which means it can be used dynamically be each of the cores.

AMD currently offers a socket platform called QuadFX for inserting two duo-core chips on a motherboard. The platform, as part of AMD's easy upgrade strategy, also will support two quad-core chips. AMD plans to ship a socket platform specific to Phenom, codenamed FASN8, which will ship at the same time as AM2+.

On Monday, AMD plans to launch a high-end graphics card that supports high-definition content and DirectX 10. The ATI Radeon HD 2000 Series will be available in desktop and notebook versions. Prices will range from $99 to $400 for desktop models, and from $800 to $1,200 for the notebook models. The highest end desktop model, the HD 2900XT, is available Monday. The other models will be available starting in June.

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