AMD quad-core chip hits compatibility snag

AMD's high-end quad-core Phenom chips may have compatibility issues when circuit board makers mismatch the boards with companion chips.

Update: Circuit board makers using Advanced Micro Devices' high-end quad-core Phenom chips claim that there are compatibility issues with select boards. This comes as the chipmaker struggles to churn out processors that are competitive with Intel's offerings.

AMD quad-core Phenom X4
AMD quad-core Phenom X4 AMD

This issue was reported Monday at the Web site HKEPC.

AMD confirmed Monday that some motherboard suppliers are mismatching high-end quad-core Phenom processors with a lower-end chipset. (The motherboard is the main circuit board in a PC. The chipset allows the processor to interact with other components, among other functions.)

"What people have done, mistakenly, is paired a 780G (chipset-based) motherboard with the higher frequency Phenom--the 125-watt Phenom," said Jake Whitman, an AMD spokesperson.

Whitman is referring to the fact that the high-end 9750 and 9850 Phenom processors have a Thermal Design Power (TDP or thermal envelope) of 125 watts versus the lower-end 9600 and 9550 models that have a TDP of 95 watts. The higher-watt parts will not work with motherboards that contain the 780G chipset. The lower-end models do not have these TDP issues.

"They've taken an enthusiast-class quad-core part and paired it with a mainstream motherboard," Whitman said. "And not all motherboard manufacturers have tweaked their boards to support a 125-watt TDP." Whitman says that AMD's 790 chipset--not the 780--should be paired with the 9750 and 9850 processors and that a number of motherboard makers are already doing this.

"We've never made claims that 780G motherboards are enthusiast-class motherboards," Whitman said.

The inability to use high-end quad-core AMD processors on some motherboards may be symptomatic of a larger challenge. AMD is finding it difficult to compete head-on with Intel quad-core offerings in the consumer segment. Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, for instance, offer desktops with only the lower-performance Phenom chips, such as the 9100e (1.8GHz) and 9600 (2.3GHz). Neither HP nor Gateway offer desktops with higher-performance 9750 (2.4GHz) or 9850 (2.5GHz) Phenoms.

Meanwhile, Intel-based systems from these companies--though usually more expensive--come with quad-core chips ranging up to a 2.83GHz Q9550.

Whitman says there's a reason for this. First-tier PC makers "are not necessarily interested in building the fastest AMD-based quad-core systems, but are more interested in price." He expects wider adoption of the high-end Phenom chips with system builders and game-enthusiast PC makers.

In related news reported by CNET News.com on Monday, supercomputer maker Cray said it would adopt Intel quad-core processor designs for its supercomputers. Though Cray says it will continue to offer configurations with AMD chips too, the move by Cray is seen as an endorsement of Intel multicore designs. Before this announcement, Cray had been using AMD processors only.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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