AMD's New Quad-Core Chip is a 'Phenom'

By Scott Ferguson Print this article Print

The company is preparing to launch its own quad-core processors for desktops later this year, which will be followed by a new platform that promises octo-core technology for high-end PCs.

Advanced Micro Devices believes its next generation quad-core desktop processors are a true phenomenon in the IT industry.

With those high expectations in mind, AMD is preparing to launch its quad-core desktop processors, which will go by the name "Phenom," later this year and just after the company unveils its quad-core Opteron processor "Barcelona" for servers.

In addition to preparing its own line of quad-core products to compete against Intel's quad-core Xeon processors, AMD is also unveiling a new platform May 14 that will offer eight-core technology for PC enthusiasts.

This octo-core platform, called "FASN8" and pronounced "fascinate," will be one of AMD's first attempts at delivering its own PC platforms since it bought ATI in October. The platform will contain two quad-core Phenom processors, an ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics card and a new chip set. It is also expected to launch later this year.

"AMD has tried to come with a platform response to Intel for some time, especially since the competition in that space has moved to the platform level," said Roger Kay, an analyst with EndPoint Technology Associates. "They [AMD] have been trying to tell a platform story and a lot of the ATI acquisition was about that."

Click here to read more about AMD's mobile chip technology.

AMD, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is expected to launch its quad-core Barcelona processors in the coming months. The Phenom processors and the new eight-core platform will follow in the second half of 2007, said Ian McNaughton, product marketing manager for AMD's FX processors.

The Phenom processors will come labeled as Phenom X2 for dual core and Phenom X4 for quad core. These chips are part of AMD's next-generation family of Star processors and will include features such as AMD's Direct Connect Architecture, which is designed to improve memory and bandwidth by directly connecting the memory and I/O to the CPU. This also allows for the CPUs to be connected to one another.

The Direct Connect Architecture is one way AMD has tried to distinguish itself from Intel's processor design, which uses a traditional FSB (front-side bus) to connect the CPUs, memory and I/O.

This design also goes toward AMD's argument that its quad-core chip, which will include four cores on the same piece of silicon, is the more elegant design compared to Intel's, which essentially ties two dual-core processors together.

Although AMD has positioned its processors as the better designed chips, Intel managed to come to the market first with its quad-core processors for high-end PCs and servers in November.

Since then, Intel has continued to press its advantage and an April 30 report released by Mercury Research showed that Intel has gained back some of its lost market share. In the overall x86 market, Intel now has an 80.5 percent market share, while AMD's share slipped from 25.3 percent to 18.7 percent.

Click here to read more about Intel's latest plans for its processors.

Within AMD's design for its next-generation quad-core processors, the company has also included an integrated DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory controller, a shared L3 cache—which will complement the L2 cache, for faster data access—and its own HyperTransport technology, a high speed, chip-to-chip interconnect.

The processors are also designed to work with Socket AM2 and Socket AM2+, which McNaughton said will allow users to upgrade by simply plugging the new processors into an existing socket.

Notably absent from AMD's discussion of its new processors was the clock frequencies of the Phenom chips, specifics on the size of the shared L3 cache and the price.

When the Phenom processors and the FASN8 platform are released later this year, McNaughton said the new technology is geared toward five distinct areas—better performance with Microsoft's Vista operating system, gaming, media creation, digital entertainment and megatasking.

On the business side, McNaughton said that the processors will likely appeal to gamers and enthusiasts first, but enterprises eventually will adopt PCs that use the Phenom processors.

"Yes, it will play in the enterprise space," McNaughton said. "No, the enterprise will not be the first adopters. I think once Vista is adopted in that space, then you'll see quad-core being adopted as well. I think once they see the power these chips are offering, along with what we are doing with the thermal envelope, it will be hard for them to ignore."

Kay agreed that quad-core processes will likely be adopted by gamers to take advantage of multithreaded games before the chips even enter the enterprise space.

"The first question you ask yourself is, 'Who needs that type of horsepower?' And what comes to mind is the gaming community," Kay said.

The Phenom name is also a switch for AMD in its branding scheme. While the Phenom label will designate both dual- and quad-core processors for high-end PCs, the company will keep the Athlon designation for mid-range systems and Sempron for the low-end of the scale.

"What we really wanted to do was wrap a little more emotion around the naming of the products," said McNaughton, noting that the Phenom name was short for the word phenomenal. "We want customers to think of it not just as an ingredient but more as an experience."

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This article was originally published on 2007-05-14
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