AMD Spins a Spider Web for Desktops

AMD's first desktop platform to use the quad-core Phenom chips is aimed at gamers, but a commercial version is due in 2008.

Advanced Micro Devices is ready to launch its quad-core chips into the desktop market.

On Nov. 19, the chip maker will launch its new "Spider" platform for gaming and high-end desktop PCs. The platform will include AMDs quad-core Phenom microprocessors, the new 790 chip set and the ATI Radeon HD 3800 graphics chips, which were initially released Nov. 15.

While the new platform does not specifically target the enterprise, or even the mainstream consumers, the platform does mark the first time AMD is bringing quad-core processors to desktops. The first platform for commercial desktops, called "Peruses"—it will also use a combination of Phenom processors, ATI graphics and a new chip set—is slated for release in 2008.

In September, the company delivered the first of its quad-core Opteron models for servers, but the company has been hampered by delays and wasnt expected to ramp up products for these processors until this quarter.

AMD executives have said the release of this platform now will allow the company to capitalize on the upcoming Christmas holiday. John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the timing around the release of Phenom also reflects the companys delays in getting the Opteron models to the market earlier this year.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about AMD and high-performance computing.

On the positive side, AMD is starting to deliver more of its own platforms—chip set, processor, and graphics—to PC vendors, which should allow the company to offer a more competitive price to OEMs compared to Intel. The Spider platform is also sign that the ATI acquisition, which has been a drag on the companys bottom line, may have started to pay off, Spooner said.

While Spider looks to make its mark with gamers, the enterprise market for quad-core desktops is limited right now, but Spooner said that could change in time as certain types of enterprise workers find uses for this combination of processor and graphics power.

"Its mainly for the consumer market right now, but the consumer market usually drives new technologies and theres a certain amount of bleed over from one market to another," he said. "If a worker is just working with e-mail or PowerPoint, theres not much need for a quad-core processor. If someone is doing a lot of multitasking or encoding video or involved with content creation, there can be some benefit from these types of PCs."

The new Spider platform will include two of the new Phenom processors that are built of AMDs 65-nanometer manufacturing process. The Phenom 9600 has a clock speed of 2.3GHz, while the 9500 model is clocked at 2.2GHz. The two processors each offer a total of 2MB of L2 cache, while the four processing cores also share 2MB of L3 cache. The chips also offer a thermal envelope of 95 watts and features such as AMDs HyperTransport 3.0, which allows for faster data transfer within the PCs, and its CoolnQuiet technology for reducing power and fan speed through on-demand frequency and voltage switching.

By comparison, Intel also offers a number of quad-core processors for gaming and enthusiast PCs—the chip makers Core 2 Extreme line—which are manufactured both at 65- and 45-nanometer and available with clock speeds up to 3GHz and L2 cache sizes between 8MB and 12MB.

In addition to the quad-core Phenom processors, AMD will release a special three-core Phenom model in February. These chips are essentially quad-core chips with one core disabled. However, AMD believes a market can be carved out for these chips both within the commercial market as well as for enthusiast and mainstream desktop consumers.

The Phenom 9600 processor will sell for $283 per 1,000 units shipped and the 9500 model will sell for $251 per 1,000, according to AMD.

Editors Note: John Spooner is a former senior staff writer for eWEEK.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.