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AMD's Athlon 64 FX-62 represents a major shift in design for AMD. The chip itself is straightforward; it's a dual-core performance CPU that offers a marginal performance increase over the older Athlon 64 FX-60. More importantly, the FX-62 is the flagship of AMD's new AM2 motherboard chipset, which introduces several new features to the AMD desktop platform. This means that if you want to upgrade to this CPU, you'll also need a new motherboard. You'll get plenty of advanced features if you make the switch, but keep in mind that Intel's Core 2 Duo chips are right around the corner, and early tests have shown that AMD's hold on the performance belt might be slipping.
The Athlon 64 FX-62 is not a revolutionary upgrade to AMD's old lineup. Aside from the new interface, the biggest change is the upgrade to a 2.8GHz per core, a minor uptick from the FX-60's 2.6GHz. Despite the predictable CPU tweaking, the more important development is the FX-62's transition to AMD's new AM2 chipset. For the past two years, AMD's desktop chips have used either Socket 939 or the lower-end Socket 754 motherboards. With AM2, AMD introduces not only an entirely new pin layout for its desktop chips, it also brings support for DDR2 memory. AM2 will support 667MHz DDR2 memory for all of AMD's chips, and at least up to 800MHz memory when paired with compatible Athlon 64 X2 and Athlon FX CPUs. It's been rumored that AM2 can support up to 1,066MHz DDR2 memory as well, although AMD won't officially support it. For Intel's part, its 900-series chipsets have supported DDR2 in various clock speeds since their debut in early 2004, but that support hasn't translated to performance wins due to DDR2 memory's higher latency than plain old DDR. DDR2 generally isn't slower than DDR, but it hasn't really offered a benefit. But the time is now ripe for AMD to switch because falling prices are making high quantities of DDR2 memory more cost effective than DDR, and with Windows Vista and its 1GB system memory requirements, you can expect that PCs with 2GB and 4GB of memory will soon become the norm.
There's more to the Socket AM2 story (check back for a blog later), but as far as the Athlon 64 FX-62 is concerned, neither the new chip nor the new chipset translate to remarkable performance gains. Its SysMark 2004 overall scores are only 3.5 percent faster than the FX-60's. The FX-62's strongest improvement was on our multitasking test, where it showed a 10 percent performance gain. Otherwise, on our dual-core and gaming tests, the FX-62 turned in scores between 8 and 1 percent faster than the FX-60, barely overcoming the statistical margin of error. Still, right now the Athlon 64 FX-62 is technically the desktop CPU performance leader. But with recent brewings at Intel, that lead could change hands soon.
At Intel's Spring Developer's Forum, Intel provided tech enthusiast site Anandtech the chance to test its upcoming Core 2 Duo desktop chip (then code-named Conroe) against an overclocked Athlon 64 FX-60. The results weren't in AMD's favor. We can't judge based on prerelease testing, especially when it was conducted in an Intel-controlled environment (Anandtech acknowledged the possibility for Intel chicanery as well), but with no major performance boost from the Athlon 64 FX-62, and the fact that Intel's Core 2 Duo represents a brand-new architecture for the desktop, AMD's performance lead looks vulnerable. Intel's road map puts the release date of its next-generation Extreme Edition CPU in the second half of the year, and the company announced the official name of the mainstream Core 2 Duo chip this month. If you absolutely need more power now, the Athlon 64 FX-62 will deliver. But we feel that it's worth waiting at least a month or two to see what Intel brings to the table.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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