AMD Rolls Out 64-bit Desktop Chip

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2003-09-23

AMD Rolls Out 64-bit Desktop Chip

SAN FRANCISCO—Advanced Micro Devices Inc. later today will lay down the second half of its bet on 64-bit computing.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., company will introduce new chips at an event here. The much-touted Athlon 64 and mobile Athlon 64 chips for PCs and notebooks feature the same capabilities as AMDs Opteron counterpart for servers and workstations, which the company released in April, in particular the ability to run 32-bit and 64-bit applications equally well.

AMD is launching the more mainstream chips, the Athlon 64 3200+ for desktops and the Athlon 64 +3000 for notebooks. Those processors will run at 2GHz, and come with 1MB of Level 2 cache.

In addition, AMD is launching AMD 64 FX-51, a chip running at 2.2GHz that includes a 128-bit dual-channel memory controller for maximum bandwidth and 1MB of Level 2 cache. John Crank, Athlon product manager for AMD, said the company is positioning the chip to compete primarily against Prescott, Intel Corp.s upcoming next-generation Pentium chip. The AMD 64 FX-51 will target high-end gamers and PC enthusiasts, which he called "prosumers." The processor will sell for $733 in 1,000 quantity shipments.

"Theyll be able to do things that they cant physically do today," Crank said.

All the chips will include AMDs HyperTransport technology for faster data transfer within the PCs, and its CoolnQuiet features for reducing power and fan speed via on-demand frequency and voltage switching. The technology is designed to allow for cooler-running systems and noise reduction.

While AMD introduced its version of 64-bit computing with the launch of the Opteron server processor this past April, the company has also been busy prepping the consumer market for the Athlon 64. Meanwhile, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., attempted to outflank the Athlon 64 FX by introducing the Pentium 4 with Hyperthreading Technology Extreme Edition at its developer forum last week in San Jose, Calif.

"Weve identified the areas where we need to focus; weve done so, and were highly engaged," said Hal Speed, strategic initiatives manager for AMD. "Were ready to go."

AMD officials also say there will be wide support from ISVs for the new chips at the launch on Tuesday. Microsoft Corp. already is creating 64-bit extensions to its Windows operating system.

For now, however, AMD is targeting the Athlon 64 and Athlon 64FX at the niche of a niche: those customers who want the highest performance processor, and who are willing to run either Linux or a Windows XP beta.

On Tuesday, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will provide a beta copy of its 64-bit Windows XP, called Windows XP 64-bit Edition For 64-bit Extended Systems. Users can run their 32-bit applications on the 64-bit OS using what Microsoft calls Windows on Windows 64 (WOW64) emulation technology. However, Microsoft must port all of the drivers contained within the XP code base to the 64-bit edition, and a final version of the software is vaguely scheduled for early in 2004.


Crank said he expects mainstream demand for 64-bit desktop computing to take off with Microsofts release of Longhorn, the next version of Windows. But he added that Intel officials are not looking at the entire picture, ignoring the growing demand among the increasing numbers of high-end gamers.

In an interview with eWEEK, AMD President and CEO Hector de Ruiz said he expects the client side of the industry to embrace the companys architecture, as well.

"The client side of the system is important," Ruiz said. "And we believe that the migration of 64-bit on the client side is going to grow faster than people think. And of course, having the infrastructure-enabled backbones in companies will allow that to happen even faster. So were very optimistic on the client side."

The Athlon 64 and Athlon 64FX will be backed by an infrastructure of established chip set and motherboard vendors, including the first introduction of the nForce3, a chip set designed for the Athlon 64 by Nvidia Corp. Taiwan chip set vendors Silicon Integrated Systems Inc., and Via Technologies Inc. will also support the Athlon 64.

The Athlon 64FX contains 105.9 million transistors, roughly twice that of the Athlon XP "Barton" core, implying that the chip will cost twice as much to manufacture. However, executives at Avnet Applied Computing, AMDs master distributor, reported that supplies of the Athlon 64 and Athlon 64FX should be sufficient to meet demand, and that the firm had already beginning shipping chips to the channel.

Both the Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64 FX contain 1 MB of exclusive Level 2 cache, meaning that data written into the L1 cache will not appear in the L2 cache. The Athlon 64 uses a 64-bit memory interface to DDR400 memory, while the Athlon 64 FX includes an Opteron-like 128-bit single channel DDR interface, also to DDR400 memory modules.

However, the Athlon 64FX uses registered memory of the type typically found in servers, a type of DIMM with an on-chip register that acts as a buffer, improving the reliability of data transfers. The Athlon 64FX also uses a 940-pin package, incompatible with the 754-pin socket used by the Athlon 64.

Having prepared the answers to several key questions about what it is offering, AMD now must provide the answer to the most critical question of all: will anyone buy it?

Analysts responses varied, although some said they feel that the Athlon XP and Athlon 64FX wont have much of an impact—or at least not in enough quantities to displace the companys entrenched 32-bit Athlon XP line. While there are good reasons for customers to wait, customers wanting the fastest 32-bit processor in AMDs stable should actually choose the Athlon 64, they said.

"Its not going to deliver the worlds highest volumes for the next few months," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif. During the fourth quarter, Brookwood said, volumes of the Athlon FX were likely to be "noise", or statistically insignificant.

At the same time, AMD can exploit an opportunity. Intels next 32-bit Pentium processor, the "Prescott," may not ship in high quantities until next year, according to Peter Glaskowsky, editor of The Microprocessor Report and an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, based in San Jose. "I dont think [AMD] will meet all the demand," Glaskowsky said. "I think theyre hoping for more demand than they can fill, and maintain the highest possible price for those chips as long as possible.

"There are some millions of gamers out there, and the top few percent of gamers will buy the Athlon 64 FX, especially in lieu of the Prescott," Glaskowsky said.

Initially targeted for release late last year, the Athlon 64 chip launch was first delayed until the second quarter of this year, and then put off again until Tuesday. Rob Enderle, principal analyst with The Enderle Group, in San Jose, Calif., said the delays hurt AMD. Had the company been able to release its 64-bit chips last year, it would have had a significant advantage over Intels offerings. The delays enabled Intel to bolster its 32-bit Pentium offerings. The companies are hoping for big sales of Athlon 64 and Prescott chips as the holiday season arrive next quarter, Enderle said.

"Both AMD and Intel are cutting it pretty close in the fourth quarter," he said.

Looking forward, AMD is planning new releases of its Opteron and Athlon 64 chips in the first half of 2004. All three releases – code-named Athens for the Opteron chip, San Diego for Athlon 64 and Odessa for the mobile Athlon 64 chip – will be built via 90-nm process.

Virtually all of the "enthusiast OEMs," including Alienware and VoodooPC, are expected to offer Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX machines. Northgate Innovations, a PC OEM based in City of Industry, Calif., plans to offer a $1,399 Athlon 64 based machine at retailer Costco.

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