Tired of Benchmarks? Here’s the Dirt!

Industry Dirt will be exploring some of the more suspect rumors and happenings around our beloved technology firms. Today I take a look at some of the latest from AMD and Intel, and while Intel certainly is still controlling the industry, AMD looks like it could be in for a surprise quarter. Plus I explore the ramifications of Intel’s latest “K” series of unlocked CPUs.
    With “Industry Dirt” I am attempting to provide an interesting look into the latest hot topics and rumors swirling about this industry we seem to love so much.  It should not be inflammatory, but hopefully still interesting to readers.  Those looking for vitriol spewed about certain companies or products should probably shop elsewhere.  So with that out of the way, let’s dive in!

AMD Stunned by Popularity of 6 Core “Thuban” Products

    While AMD is far from sitting in the catbird seat, they have apparently hit one out of the park with the release of the desktop 6 core processor “Thuban” combined with their 800 series of chipsets.  Not only is demand very good for these parts, but it is apparently outstripping supply by a wide margin.  AMD is struggling to keep up with said demand, and has had to limit supplies of the wildly popular SB850 southbridge, which is the first native SATA 6G controller in the industry.

    The combination of two processor SKUs which give users 6 cores of pretty fast performance for $199 and $299 price points are flying off the shelves with consumers and OEMs.  The 1055T is very popular with OEMs, and products based around this attractively priced 2.8 GHz 6 core part are prominently featured at HP and Dell.  The OEM only 1035T is also another attractive option for consumers, and prices for systems designed around this CPU start at around $700.

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AMD’s 6-core Thuban processor

    The AMD 800 series of chipsets are selling quite briskly, and motherboard manufacturers are very excited about these parts.  The combination of the new 6 core parts, affordable Athlon II parts, and motherboards supporting USB 3.0 and SATA 6G have made for a perfect storm for AMD and its partners.  The 890GX and 890FX parts are attracting the attention of enthusiasts who want a motherboard to complement their new 6 core part, while the 880G and 870 parts are addressing the more budget areas.  Even the most high end 890FX boards are under $250, which is still lower than many of the Intel enthusiast boards, and the sub-$179 area is very, very healthy with some good boards with plenty of features thrown in.

Combine this with AMD’s full lineup of DX11 standalone graphics parts, we can speculate that AMD is going to have a much more successful Q2 than their original estimates pointed at.  At the last conference call, AMD essentially said that Q2 will be seasonally down from Q1.  I seriously question that estimate, and if what we are hearing is true, then the CPU, chipset, and graphics divisions could post some nice numbers (for AMD that is).

Intel Unlocked

    At Computex Intel released their fully unlocked i5 and i7 processors.  I find their move interesting from a couple of perspectives.  First of all, it is nice that Intel is finally addressing the midrange and budget enthusiasts with these parts.  Until the K series of chips came out, the only unlocked cores were the Extreme Edition parts which retailed for over $1000.  AMD was able to address these users some time ago with their Black Edition parts which retail between $100 and $299.  While I appreciate that Intel has finally given regular folk the ability to overclock these unlocked cores, their pricing seems a bit out of whack as compared to what AMD is accomplishing.

    The Core i5 655K is a dual core part with HyperThreading, and it retails at $210 to $220.  The Core i7 875K is a quad core part with HyperThreading which retails at $330 to $350.  Let us compare this with the Phenom II X2 555, which costs $99 and has a high probability of successfully unlocking to four cores.  We then move onto the Phenom II X4 965, which retails around $189 and is a native quad core which can easily clock to 4 GHz on air, and 4.6 GHz on aggressive water cooling.  Furthermore AMD has the Phenom II X6 1090T which retails for $299 and features a true 6 core design.  We can really see the disparity here, and it in fact grows when we place these CPUs into comparable motherboards.

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The new unlocked K-series of CPUs from Intel

    Let me throw a few things out there before people start accusing me of being too green.  Intel is the proud owner of the catbird seat in this situation.  Their Nehalem based architecture is truly impressive.  If we compare the per clock performance of this product with AMD’s Phenom II, we see that Intel has squeezed 30% more performance per clock out of roughly the same transistor count and die size, all the while staying within traditional TDP envelopes.  It is awesome what they have been able to do with the design.  Intel also is the first with 32 nm parts for public consumption, something AMD will not achieve until late 2010/early 2011.  In terms of CPU technology, AMD is still quite far behind, as the Phenom II is really only about as fast per clock as Intel’s last generation of Core 2 parts.

    Considering the amazing job the CPU folks are doing at Intel, I have to scratch my head and wonder why they make some of the decisions they do.  Why is Intel not aggressively pursuing SATA 6G and USB 3.0 with their chipsets?  Why have they let AMD, Marvell, and NEC take the lead with these technologies?  In an industry which relies on checkbox features to sell systems, the lack of native support for these technologies from Intel is big.  Furthermore, why do supposedly modern chipsets like the P55 and P57 features PCI-E 1.0 connections instead of adding more PCI-E 2.0 performance and functionality?  Certainly motherboard manufacturers have tried to work around this when implementing USB 3.0 and SATA 6G controllers to achieve full performance without bottlenecks, but with far limited success than when those particular features are implemented on AMD’s 700 and 800 series of motherboards.

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Performance per dollar valuation from our recent Intel K-series CPU review

    Going back to the K series of chips, I am again scratching my head at the pricing for these parts that Intel is attempting.  Go to countless forums, and we can see that the vast majority of enthusiasts and overclockers look at the sub-$150 range for their processors.  If one thinks about it, overclocking was first started to maximize the amount spent on a CPU.  Taking a far cheaper Pentium 133 and clocking it up to 200 MHz saved an individual $600 for that particular performance.  Look as well at the original Celeron 300A, which could be clocked up to 450 MHz and match the performance of the far more expensive Pentium !!! 450.  Certainly there are enthusiasts and overclockers who are willing to spend that amount of money (and more), but again the vast majority of them are those who cannot afford the truly high end parts and do overclock to maximize their purchase.  Yes, taking a i5 655K to 4.8 GHz with some good cooling is very nice, but is it nicer than being able to unlock a X2 555 into a quad core and be able to hit 4.0 GHz to 4.2 GHz for less than half the price?

    Still, it is good that Intel is starting to address the wants of the enthusiast market with much more affordable products than their $1000 Extreme Edition chips.  I only wish they could have at least made the i5 a $149 product.  I think it would have attracted a lot more attention at that price than the $209 it is currently offered at.  The i7 875K is again priced higher than I would have liked.  It is unfortunate that Intel couldn’t/wouldn’t release something more along the lines of the i5 750 in unlocked form, for around $210.  Now that would have been a very compelling part!