In an effort to remake both its mainstream and high-end desktop offerings, Advanced Micro Devices is releasing the first of its tri-core Phenom processors and is adding several new quad-core parts to its lineup.
AMD will release two Phenom X3 triple-core processors, along with five additional Phenom X4 quad-core processors, March 26, as the chip maker and its OEM partners prepare to refresh their PC lineups during the second quarter of 2008. Hewlett-Packard and Dell are both expected to offer new systems built around these AMD chips.
While some of the quad-core and tri-core processors offer the same amount of performance, AMD is hoping to distinguish the Phenom X3 chips from the X4 chips through aggressive pricing. While the tri-core models will start at about $150 per 1,000 units shipped, the quad-core parts begin at about $200. For now, AMD is selling the Phenom X3 chips directly to OEMs, but the quad-core parts will be available through its channel.
If AMD does market the Phenom X3 as a mainstream chip, the company also has leverage in selling its older dual-core Athlon X2 processors as a less expensive part for users interested in a much more basic desktop PC.
“The triple-core will stand on its own in terms of price/performance,” said Leslie Sobon, director of platform marketing for AMD, adding that the combination of the triple-core chips, AMD chip sets and graphics will allow users to better view high-definition video.
It also allows PC vendors-whether HP, Dell or Gateway-to differentiate their products from the competition by offering a range of processors at different prices. More importantly, it gives AMD a chip to compete against Intel within the mainstream PC market.
Although these processors are mainly geared toward high-end desktops and PC enthusiasts, John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that it’s only a matter of time before AMD and its vendor partners position the processors within business clients.
“This triple-core part is the new standard for mainstream desktops, and it will go into the consumer market first to launch first at the time when the OEMs are starting to think about their spring refresh,” Spooner said. “If Dell goes ahead and offers it with its Optiplex, it shows that this is a processor for mainstream desktops and AMD is going to push to have these in every desktop, whether it’s a consumer system or an enterprise system.”
The Phenom X3 8600 chip offers a clock speed of 2.3GHz, 1.5MB of Level 2 cache and a shared 2MB of L3 cache within a 95-watt thermal envelope. The X3 8400 has a clock speed of 2.1GHz and the same amount of cache and the same thermal envelope as the 8600.
Quad-Core with Defective Core?
AMD spokespeople have said that the company’s technology, such as its Direct Connect Architecture, which directly connects the cores together and allows for better communication between the memory controller and the I/O, enables AMD to create triple-core chips instead of following the standard one-, two- and four-core models.
However, some analysts say the tri-core is a quad-core processor with a defective core shut off and repackaged. This approach would give AMD better yields from its manufacturing facilities, since chip defects, especially inoperable cores, are common.
In addition to tri-core processors, AMD will roll out four Phenom X4 quad-core models-9850, 9750, 9650 and 9550-that have clock speeds ranging from 2.5GHz to 2.2GHz, 2MB of L2 cache and a shared 2MB of L3 cache. There is also the Phenom X4 9100e model, which runs at 1.8GHz but works within a 65-watt thermal envelope.
It now seems likely that AMD’s quad-core processor will hit 3.0GHz sometime later this year, when the company makes a switch from a 65-nanometer processor to a 45-nm manufacturing process, which should give the chips a 20 percent performance boost. AMD has said that its triple-core chip will offer 30 percent better performance than more standard dual-core processors.
Intel already offers several models in its Core 2 Extreme line with four processing cores and clock speeds as high as 3.2GHz. The company does not offer a chip with three processing cores.
AMD is planning to pair the Phenom X3 processors with its own 780 series chip sets, while the quad-core chips work with the 790 series chip sets. The company is also offering a choice of ATI graphics chips.