AMD Releases More Tricore Chips

The chip maker says it has now fixed all design flaws in the silicon.

In its effort to quickly ramp up new products following a disappointing first quarter, Advanced Micro Devices is releasing three additional tri-core Phenom processors for the mainstream PC market.

The three Phenom X3 processors, which AMD officially released April 23, add some additional clock speeds to the lineup and help fill in the gap between the company's traditional dual-core Athlon processors and its high-end quad-core Phenom models.

AMD originally released the first of its tri-core Phenom processors March 27 with the goal of appealing to mainstream PC buyers interested in a desktop that could offer more performance than one with standard dual-core processor, but that cost less than a high-end machine carrying the latest quad-core chip.

Brent Barry, an AMD desktop marketing manager, said the chip maker's research showed that the majority of buyers continue to look at dual-core processors and have not yet fully embraced the more high-end quad-core offerings. This pattern, Barry said, creates room for AMD's triple-core Phenom as a bridge between the high-end and the low-end.

The company's customers, both business buyers and consumers, are now very savvy about how the number of processing cores affects performance.

"In the past, it was all about frequency and at the time that made sense, but now they have made sense of what multicore can do and have added cores to their list of what they look for when they buy," Barry said.

The three new Phenom X3 models are the 8750, 8650 and 8450, which have clock speeds of 2.4GHz, 2.3GHz and 2.1GHz respectively. All three microprocessors offer a total of 1.5MB of Level 2 cache, 2MB of shared Level 3 cache and a thermal envelope of 95 watts. The processors are used in conjunction with the AMD 780 series chip set and ATI Radeon graphics.

The new Phenom X3 processors cost between $195 for 8750 model and $145 for the 8450 model per 1,000 units shipped. By comparison, the quad-core Phenom 9750 processor with the same 2.4GHz clock speed as the Phenom X3 8750 costs $215, according to AMD's Web site.

All three processors carry a "50" designation to show that the chips are part of new batch of silicon called "B3," which corrected a design flaw in the original quad-core processors' translation-lookaside buffer. That flaw caused problems when data was transferred between the L2 and L3 cache, although it was more of a concern to AMD within its server processors than for processors used within desktops.

The flaw was enough reason for AMD to delay the release of its quad-core Phenom and Opteron processors from late 2007 to the first quarter of 2008, which is one reason why the company reported disappointing first-quarter sales on April 17.

For now, AMD is targeting the tri-core processors at mainstream consumers, but the company has plans to bring the Phenom X3 chips into more business-oriented PCs soon.

Later this quarter, AMD is expected to release "Perseus," a new desktop platform for business PCs, which could offer an array of new processors including the tri-core models, although AMD has not offered any specifics just yet.

John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said AMD would like to see more of its processors in corporate desktops and to compete with Intel in the same way that it did when it introduced its Opteron processor to gain a foothold within the data center.

The problem for AMD is that corporate buyers look for specific configurations that meet their IT plans, and tri-core chips are new to the enterprise market.

"For AMD, the trick is to show how their chips differ from Intel's chips, and tri-core and price performance are two ways to show that difference," Spooner said.

On April 20, Intel dropped the price of several of its processors, including several entry-level quad-core desktop processors that could compete against AMD's Phenom X3 chips in the corporate and consumer markets

The concept of an x86 processor with three processing cores remains an anomaly in a market that usually calculates cores in ones, twos and fours.

While AMD has said the innovations behind its microarchitecture, such as the integrated memory controller, allow it to develop chips with three processing cores, some analysts suspect that the Phenom X3 is a quad-core processor with a defective core that has been shut off and repackaged.