Dual Core for Everyone?

AMD shared their plans for the upcoming dual core processors with us. We wrap up the information and present it to you here.

At the recent Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, AMD had a suite at a hotel across the street.  In it they met with the press to discuss their plans for the dual core transition that is coming to the PC industry. 

Below is a portion of the presentation presented to the media, as well as some comments and additional information that I have learned since. 

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Making sure to tout their performance and technology advantages over their competition, AMD presented the above slide.  They claim to have been first to supply simultaneous 32- and 64-bit computing, first to eliminate bottlenecks of the x86 FSB, first to implement 64-bit and virus protection in a desktop part, first to present a dual core strategy, first to tape out a dual core part and first to demo it.  With all those firsts, you’d expect to see AMD with a 50% market share right?  That is obviously not the case, but it does put AMD on the right track to taking additional market share from Intel over the next year or so.

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Based on the slide above, you can see the timetable AMD has for their dual core processors.  They will be releasing dual core Opterons in the next couple of months and following that up with desktop Athlon 64 dual core processors sometime in the second half of the year.  For AMD it does make more sense to release the dual core parts to the server/workstation market first, as those areas are the ones that have the multi-threaded applications to take full advantage of the additional power. 

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Here is a very high level overview of the AMD dual core design strategy.  AMD was adamant about the benefits of having dual cores on a single die based on several reasons including performance and cost.  The cost of having a dual core processor on a single die CAN be cheaper, as long as yields are good on the process.  For every die that is bad off the line, you are effectively killing two cores.  In contrast, Intel’s initial method for dual core uses one die for each core on a single piece of silicon and an interconnect; if one die from their wafer line is bad, only a single core is wasted. 

The main benefit for AMD using a single die for their dual core processors is that CPU cores will have one fewer circuit to pass through before accessing memory as opposed to the Intel designs. This interconnect is called the Crossbar Switch (pictured above) and bridges the memory controller and HT bus to the core, and each core having two ports.  This means that the Athlon 64 architecture was designed for dual core processing from the start.

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This seemingly unassuming slide shows all the places where AMD sees the benefits to their upcoming Athlon 64 dual core processors.  If you look at the applications AMD has listed, content creation, multitasking, entertainment PC, you may not notice that something is missing: GAMING.  Though it’s no where on the list at all, we can forgive this omission. 

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In a more detailed look at the advantages dual core Athlon 64 processors will have over in the digital home and multitasking, there is still nothing mentioned of gaming.  That is because the FX line of processors from AMD is going to remain single core for at least all of 2005.  With all current games and probably all games in the coming year remaining single threaded, AMD says the gamer will not see a major benefit in the move to dual core processors.  While this is true for gaming applications specifically, the idea that gamers won’t want a dual core processor makes very little sense to me.  Gamer’s do other things besides game, and in fact, I would wager to say that the typical enthusiast gamer is one of the most prevalent multi-taskers in the PC market.

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This slide shows the position of the AMD processors against those on the blue side of the camp.  Again here you can see that the current plan is to leave the dual core line up in the Opteron and Athlon 64 line-up. 

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And in this final slide is AMD’s summary page which pretty much states what I have already reported.

Additional Information

AMD provided other interesting news on their dual core processors, including that all currently available socket 939 motherboards that have the ability to support the Athlon 64 FX-55 processor will support dual core Athlon 64s; all that is required is a BIOS update.  All the dual core processors will be manufacturered on the 90nm process and will have a maximum power usage of 110w, only 6w higher than the current Athlon 64 FX processors.  Because of that, even the current heatsinks that are in circulation for the Athlon 64 processors should be efficient enough for the dual core processors. 

AMD is also saying that their dual core products are going to enter the mobile and DTR (desktop replacement) segments fairly quickly as well.  We’ll report more on this as we get more info.

As I’ve already noted, the main issue I have with AMD’s plan is the lack of dual core on their “gaming” processor.  AMD stated that they feel the gamer would rather have an unlocked processor that is marketed towards gamers rather than the dual core Athlon 64.  Why can’t we have both an unlocked processor and dual core?  Isn’t that what the true hardcore enthusiast would want?

AMD has been doing a PR blitz with the media, during and since IDF, to make sure that we (the press) and YOU know that AMD is the innovator and driving force of the 64-bit and dual core processor trends.  But, unlike 64-bit technology, it looks like Intel will have their dual core products out first; very soon in fact. 

It’s going to be a very exciting year for PC technology.

Be sure to visit the Processor forum for more discussion on AMD’s plans.

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