Searching for AMD's Triple-Core Phenom

The chip maker's three-core processor is finally shipping and Dell hints that it's ready to roll out desktops with Phenom parts.

The world is still waiting for a glimpse of AMD's triple-core processor.

While Advanced Micro Devices introduced the unique concept of a desktop microprocessor with three cores in September, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company has stayed quiet about when and where this version of its Phenom chip would appear in the market.

Now, some of the mystery behind the tri-core processor is beginning to lift. An AMD spokesperson wrote in an e-mail that the processor is now shipping in volume to PC vendors and it also appears that Dell will be one of the first, if not the first, OEMs to offer the processor within its Optiplex 740 desktop.

Jake Whitman, an AMD spokesperson, declined to comment on any performance specifics of the tri-core Phenom processor, but Dell documents indicate that it will offer 1.5MB of L2 cache compared to the 2MB offered with the quad-core Phenom processor. Dell is scheduled to offer both the triple-core and the quad-core processor in the second quarter of 2008.

The triple-core Phenom processors that Dell will offer will be sold under the numbering sequence of 8600 and 8700, according to a BIOS patch update listed on the PC vendor's Web site. Dell will also support the quad-core Phenom processors, specifically the 9500 and 9600 models, within the Optiplex 740 line as well.

Jeremy Bolen, a Dell spokesperson, declined to comment further on the PC maker's plans for later this year.

A Win and a Sharper Schedule

Since AMD launched its quad-core desktop models late 2007, only a handful of PC vendors in the gaming and high-end space offered support for the new chips at first. That changed when Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, which is part of Acer, each announced gaming and high-end desktops earlier this year that use the processor.

The Dell Optiplex 740 represents another significant win for AMD.

There has also been some confusion about when AMD would release the tri-core chip. Although some executives said that it would launch in February, an AMD spokesperson told eWEEK March 12 that the company has never varied from a general first-quarter roll out schedule for the tri-core Phenom.

One reason that AMD might keep to a more general timeline is the problems it faced in 2007, when it announced its quad-core Opteron processor for systems and its quad-core Phenom for desktops, but then had to delay shipments due to an erratum. Since then, the company has worked to fix the flaw and new silicon has been shipping to partners.