AMD goes quad-core with Phenom

Later this year, chipmaker will introduce new desktop processors with four cores and a new brand as it tries to recapture its lost momentum. Photo: Powered by AMD's Phenom

Advanced Micro Devices says its badly needed quad-core desktop processors are on the way, and they'll arrive bearing a new name.

Later this year, AMD will unveil its Phenom processors in quad-core and dual-core iterations. Two quad-core chips will be available in the second half of the year, the Phenom FX and the Phenom X4, and a dual-core chip based on a similar design called the Phenom X2 will also appear by the end of the year.

The Phenom brand will become the moniker for AMD's performance chips going forward, said Leslie Sobon, director of the company's desktop division. The Athlon 64 X2 brand will remain for mainstream chips and Sempron will continue to bring up the rear, she said.

AMD is banking on its design philosophy behind the Phenom chips and their server counterparts, code-named Barcelona, as a way of making up for Intel's lead in the quad-core processor generation. Intel has been shipping quad-core chips for servers and high-end desktops since last year. Those chips are known as "multichip modules" because they are essentially two of Intel's dual-core chips welded together in a package.

But AMD chose to build a single chip with four cores, which the company believes will result in better performance because information will not have to leave one core to visit its neighbor. It's the same debate over an integrated memory controller and point-to-point links that propelled AMD's Opteron and Athlon 64 chips to prominence: Cores that are directly linked offer better performance than cores that have to exchange information by leaving the chip.

Intel contends that by improving the speed and performance of its cache memory and the front-side bus--that off-chip bridge between cores--it can offer excellent performance and sidestep manufacturing concerns. Because AMD has yet to deliver its quad-core chips, the debate is mostly aesthetic, but it could become an important distinction if Barcelona and the Phenom chips open a significant performance advantage over Intel's currently shipping quad-core processors later this year.

Of course, Intel isn't standing still. It will deliver new quad-core chips later this year, and in 2008, it will introduce chips that incorporate the same integrated memory controller and point-to-point links as AMD's with its Nehalem generation of chips.

But AMD is desperate for the Phenom and Barcelona processors to arrive so it can stabilize its average selling prices. The company has been suffering from Intel's lead in the quad-core race, since it has had to aggressively discount its dual-core processors to compete with Intel's offerings, especially in the server arena.

Barcelona will come first, scheduled for a "mid-2007" introduction with systems becoming available over the remainder of the year and into next year. The Phenom processors are scheduled for the second half of the year.

Around the time of the Phenom launch, AMD will expand upon its "4x4" idea from last year with a product code-named FASN8. (The company swears that's not the real name.) FASN8 is designed for the most performance-hungry PC builders out there, with the ability to hold two quad-core Phenom processors, AMD's new ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics chip, and a new chipset. Intel plans to release a for its quad-core chips.

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