AMD: No Single Cores Left Behind

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-05-04

AMD: No Single Cores Left Behind

Sometimes two processor cores arent any better than one.

Despite introducing Athlon 64 X2 desktop PC and Opteron server processors, with dual cores or two separate processors in the same package, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. says it will continue to tout single-core processors for certain applications.

For one, the company plans to continue offering single-core Athlon 64 FX chips—likely a 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-57 that will arrive within weeks—for gaming desktops.

The chip maker also continues to tout its single-core Athlon 64 line for "mainstream" or somewhat less expensive desktops, many of which are used for everyday business or home computing tasks, such as word processing or checking e-mail.

But in a slight change of plans, AMD no longer intends to deliver new, single-core Athlon 64s this year, a company executive said. It had been expected to bring out an Athlon 64 4200+ soon. The decision eliminates overlap between the single-core Athlon 64 and dual-core Athlon 64 X2 chips, whose model numbers start at 4200+. They are due in desktops in June.

While AMD is holding back new single-core chips for mainstream PCs, its decision still underscores the fact that, despite the explosion of dual-core PC processor introductions of late—Intel launched its dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 on April 18, just ahead of AMDs April 21 launch, and plans to offer dual-core Pentium D for mainstream machines this quarter—single-core chips will continue on through at least 2006.

It will take some time for dual-core technology to make its way into game PC chips as well as into the mainstream and low-price PC processors, such as AMDs Sempron and Intels Celeron.

"Dual core is primarily a prosumer and a multimedia kind of product. Its designed to help people that are running high-end multitasking or multithreaded applications, such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Moviemaker," said Jonathan Seckler, Athlon 64 product manager at AMD.

"When we have games that are multithreaded … well certainly move the FX to dual core at that point. Right now, were thinking thats a 2006 story."

For single-thread applications, ranging from todays high-end 3D games, which benefit from speedier processors, to productivity software such as Microsofts Word, the "Athlon 64 or FX are still the right choice," Seckler said.

"Id say theres still a thriving mainstream market where an Athlon 64 provides great performance for the things people are doing now, and they can wait and upgrade to an Athlon 64 X2 in the future."

Next Page: AMD updates marketing for its four varieties of desktop PC processors.

Marketing Processors

With the addition of the Athlon 64 X2, AMD will have four varieties of desktop PC processors, including the Sempron single-core value chip, the single-core Athlon 64, the Athlon 64 X2, and the single-core Athlon 64 FX for gaming PCs.

But "were trying to be much more focused in our marketing and our positioning of where each processor is," Seckler said. "Until now weve had the FX, and the FX has been the top of the line. Now, with dual core, whats happening is you have very different responses to the applications that people are running."

AMD will tout the Athlon 64 X2s multimedia aptitude—it will market X2 chips to businesses and consumers using applications such as video editing—and will position its current and future single-core Athlon 64 FX chips as having the highest performance on games.

"If your primary interest in a PC is games, choose an FX," Seckler said. "If its professional video editing, choose X2."

A single-core Athlon 64 4200+ still might see daylight. But AMD hasnt seen demand for it, Seckler said. An Intel spokesperson declined to comment on any plans it might have to update its crop of current, single-core Pentium 4 chips. But it has announced a plan to deliver another single-core Pentium, dubbed Cedar Mill, in 2006.

Still, over time, almost all PC processors are likely to gain two or more cores, predicted Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Right now, "there are some good fits and some not so good fits [for dual-core chips]. But that will change when the software guys become more aware" of dual cores, McCarron said. "Its a question of, whens the timing right? This year, single core in the premier gaming segment makes more sense than dual core."

Overall, McCarron predicted that dual-core chips will smooth out multitasking on PCs, making them worthy of consideration by businesses as well as by consumers.

Advertising "performance e-mail is laughable," he said. "But the idea that you can be having more background activity going on without bringing your computer to its knees hasnt been explored yet."

To that end, aside from video editing for businesses, applications such as desktop search software could gain from dual-core processor PCs, McCarron said.

AMD is shifting its chip lineup in other ways to make room for its dual-core chips. Earlier this week, it cut prices on several of its Athlon 64 and Sempron chips. It has also phased out its Athlon XP brand.

Although the technology that underpinned the Athlon XP still lives on in some desktop Semprons, AMD stopped making Athlon XP chips during the first quarter.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

Rocket Fuel