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AMD unveils dual-core desktop chips

The company says its new chips, which will sell at a premium price, will provide better performance and lower power consumption.

Advanced Micro Devices introduced its dual-core desktop chips in Taiwan on Tuesday, and manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Lenovo Group have lined up to discuss how they will use the chips in their product lines.

At the Computex trade show, AMD launched four dual-core Athlon 64 X2 processors--the 4800+, the 4600+, the 4400+ and the 4200+. Dual-core chips, which contain two separate processing cores, can run more than one application at once, or run many single applications much faster.

The 4200+ chip, for instance, is about 10 percent faster than the Athlon 64 4000+, the best, fastest single-core Athlon. The 4800+ is about 22 percent faster, according to the Jonathan Seckler, Athlon 64 product marketing manager for AMD.

Computers with a dual-core chip also can outperform computers containing two single-core processors, although the difference can be hard to discern, Seckler said. Still, dual-core computers will consume about half the energy and cost less to buy and maintain than computers with two single-core chips.

"You can put more computers in a rack," Seckler said. "Your software licenses will also often cost less."

These dual-core chips also sell at a premium price. The 4800+ will sell for $1,001 in quantities of 1,000 while the 4600+ will go for $803, far higher than Athlon chips today and higher than most mainstream desktop chips sold in the last several years. (The 4400+ and the 4200+ sell for $581 and $537, respectively.)

The competing Pentium D chips from Intel, released last week, sell for between $241 and $530 in 1,000-unit quantities. Historically, AMD has had to sell its chips for less than Intel to gain market share. Price is also still a major factor in computer sales.

"Intel says they are going to flex their marketing muscle to bring stuff to the market cheaply," Seckler said. "We are going to appeal to people who appreciate the performance benefits."

But just in case the company runs out of people who appreciate performance, AMD will also strive to bring down the price over the next 18 months, Seckler said. Dean McCarron at Mercury Research added that the list price, and the price that computer makers actually pay, can vary substantially.

The new dual-core chips vary by cache size and speed. The 4800+ and 4600+ both run at 2.4GHz, but the 4800+ has a 1MB cache, twice as big as the 4600+ cache. The 4400+ and 4200+ run at 2.2GHz but sport 1MB and 512KB caches, respectively. The Pentium Ds run in the 3GHz range. Benchmark testers will be conducting tests on the two chips in the coming days and weeks.

The debut of the dual-core chips also means the beginning of the end for the Athlon 64 line. "We have no immediate plans for new Athlon 64s," Seckler said. (The top chip right now goes at 2.4GHz). There are also no current plans to come out with a dual-core chip for the Sempron line, AMD's budget processor.

A dual-core Turion for notebooks will come out in 2006. A dual-core version of the Athlon FX, AMD's gamer chip, will appear in the future as well. Most games haven't been tweaked to run on two cores yet, Seckler explained, so AMD is holding back on that product line. Intel has released a dual-core version of its Extreme Edition Pentium 4 gamer chip, but it costs $999.

Seckler said that the chips are available now--dealers in Singapore can already get processors to put into house-brand PCs--although PCs won't hit shelves for a few weeks.

Acer plans to release desktops that use the chips in Europe, while HP and Alienware will come out with machines for North America. Lenovo's Athlon 64 X2 will debut in China, where Lenovo already sells Athlon boxes. Seckler did not know if Lenovo will come out with a U.S. version.