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AMD revs up Athlon 64 games chip

The chipmaker releases a higher-performance processor to the Athlon 64 FX line of chips, developed for PC game players and other extreme desktop enthusiasts.

Advanced Micro Devices opened the gate on its highest-speed Athlon FX processor yet, targeting PC games players and other extreme desktop fans.

The Athlon 64 FX-53, a premium version of its Athlon 64 performance chip designed was unveiled on Thursday at a press conference in Hannover, Germany, at the CeBit trade show. As expected, AMD increased the clock speed by 200MHz to 2.4GHz in order to boost performance and create the FX-53 model.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker, which sells the Athlon 64 3200+ and 3400+ for more everyday PCs, says its goal has been to offer the highest-possible performance with the FX chip line, to allow PCs to present more-realistic graphics. The first processor in the family to be released was the 2.2GHz Athlon FX-51.

"AMD understands that extreme PC users crave performance; they demand graphic images that are nearly indistinguishable from reality. AMD continues to push the bounds of cinematic computing to satisfy those cravings," Marty Seyer, the general manager of AMD's Microprocessor Business Unit, said in a statement. "We know they will enjoy the AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 processor."

Better performance comes with a price. The chip, lists at $733 in 1,000-unit quantities--more than $300 higher than the Athlon 64 3400+. It will be limited in availability at first, according to AMD. However, a number of games PC specialists--including Alienware, Boxx Technologies, Falcon Northwest, Monarch Computer Systems and VoodooPC--will offer it in desktops in the United States, AMD said.

In one example, Alienware's Aurora Extreme desktop computer with the Athlon 64 FX-53 will start at just over $2,450, according to the computer maker's Web site. For that sum, it comes with the FX-53 chip, 1GB of RAM from Corsair, an 80GB performance hard drive from Seagate, a CD burner and an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra Graphics card with 128MB of onboard memory.

Many buyers who choose a PC with the FX-53 chip will also opt for a more powerful graphics card and a larger hard drive (if not two). Upgrading to an ATI Radeon 9800 XT or Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 graphics card, both of which come with 256MB of onboard memory, and a dual 120GB hard-drive set-up (for a total of 240GB) will raise the price of the PC by about $500. Moving up to 2GB of RAM adds roughly another $300. That package brings the total price of the machine to about $3,250, without a monitor, Alienware's Web site shows. But many PC enthusiasts are prepared to pay $3,000 or more to get a new desktop equipped with the latest technology, especially a new high-performance chip.

Reviewers say customers with money to spare for an FX-53 desktop will be rewarded with improved performance on many benchmarks, including important gaming measurements.

"The AthlonFX-53 has taken the speed crown from Intel's (Pentium 4) Extreme Edition CPUs in the performance gaming arena," reviewer Kyle Bennett wrote in summary of test results posted on his PC enthusiast Web site, HardOCP. "The FX-53 runs neck and neck in most other races, certainly not being best(ed) by much if any(thing) in our application benchmarks."

Like other Athlon 64 chips, the FX-53 will be able to run both 32-bit and 64-bit software. While 32-bit software is by far the more common in PCs, 64-bit operating systems from companies like Microsoft are on the way, as are 64-bit games, AMD has said.

Still, the Athlon FX-53 won't get a free pass from competitors. Intel's game-oriented processor line-up, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, was stepped up earlier this year, when the chipmaker added a 3.4GHz version. Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chips are also available in Alienware computers and are also being marketed by larger PC companies such as Dell.