RealTime IT News

AMD's Athlon Enters Area 64

SAN FRANCISCO -- After years of planning and months of delays, AMD Tuesday officially took the wraps off of its desktop Athlon 64 processor family.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker is debuting three chips here as part of its worldwide rollout: an Athlon 64 3200+ and a 3000+ topping speeds of 2GHz and an Athlon 64 FX-51 running at 2.2GHz. The desktop chips are priced at USD$417 and $733 in 1,000 units respectively. The 3000+ priced at USD$278 is also being touted as notebook processor. The company is staging 15 other launch events around the globe with upwards of 500 attendees at each venue.

AMD CEO Hector Ruiz says the chip really bridges the gap between computing then and the "age of innovation" for at least the next 15 years.

"Every mass advancement and new technology has its needs and our industry is hungry for another round of innovation," he said. "Others have been intimidated in joining us today but it doesn't mean that they are not interested. I am confident because this gives customers what they are asking for now and porting toward the future. They are not interested in proprietary solutions. They are interested in what is real and what they can imagine to handle the next wave of innovation."

Previously known as "Clawhammer," the new desktop family is designed to go head-to-head with Intel's Pentium chips and builds on many of the same features AMD released earlier this year with its server and workstation Opteron chip.

Like Opteron, the 64-bit desktop series is also built using the 0.13-micron-process at the AMD's fab in Dresden, Germany using silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology from IBM . A 90-nanometer-process successor is expected to arrive in 2004. The family includes instructions-per-clock-cycle boosters such as enhanced branch-prediction algorithms and larger translation look-aside buffers; support for the SSE2 streaming multimedia instructions that debuted in Intel's Pentium 4; 64KB level one instruction; 64KB level one data cache and up to 1MB of Level 2 cache all in a 754-pin socket ceramic package. The FX-series will be incorporated into a plus-sized processor die or 940-pin package.

"This is the premier choice for desktop and I believe we're going to deliver what these enthusiasts have been asking for," AMD Senior Brand Manager John Crank told internetnews.com. "This will drive a new level in cinematic computing as games running in a 64-bit world become like a DVD experience."

Crank, along with John Morris and Hal Speed are the originators of AMD's foray into 64-bit desktop computing, something he says Intel has yet to accomplish even with its upcomming Pentium code-named Prescott. One thing Crank says was paramount is the notion of backwards compatibility -- allowing the processor to run both 64- and 32-bit software applications natively.

"With our microprocessor, you can run 8-, 16-, 32-bit processor code natively unlike our competitors that offer much lower performance," Crank said.

What about the Apple/IBM G5 processor? Crank says the chip only runs a limited amount of applications.

"Combining our compatibility with Linux and Windows and you essentially have the only 64-bit chip in both in the gaming and video area," he said. "As for the FX processor, there is no competition available today."

At its core, Athlon 64 boasts 64-bit data and address paths that break through current 32-bit CPUs' 4GB memory addressing cap with 40-bit physical (up to 1 terabyte) and 48-bit virtual (up to 256 terabytes) memory addressing space. Crank also says Athlon 64's single HyperTransport link runs at 6.4GB/sec of data transfer per link I/O bandwidth. The Athlon 64's single 72-bit channel takes that job away from its traditional place in the system chipset's external Northbridge, greatly reducing the latency of read/write requests. AMD says this essentially controls the system at, or yields a front-side bus speed matching, the clock speed of the CPU.

Partners Roll Up
As with any good launch party, AMD has several software and hardware partners ready to capitalize on the new processor.

Marquee guests include Microsoft , which is professing support for the 64-bit desktop computing environment, an area the Redmond, Wash.-based giant only recently entered with its Window Server 2003 platform. Hewlett-Packard is also showing support for the new Athlon 64 3200+ as is Fujitsu, Fujitsu-Siemens and Packard Bell.

Among the rest of the 250 partners also pledging alliance are system builders Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS), Voodoo, Alien Ware and online gaming producer Epic, which is debuting a 64-bit version of its Unreal Tournament.

Graphic processor rivals are also porting to AMD's 64-bit desktop on the motherboard: NVIDIA with its nForce3 media and communications processors; VIA with its K8 Series chipsets; and ATI and its full range of RADEON desktop chips.

Crank said not all of the top tier players are jumping on the bandwagon, commenting that IBM, Dell, and Gateway have yet to announce support.

"Not everybody is coming out of the bag tomorrow," Crank said. "This is not a one-shot deal. There are many more announcements coming in the fourth quarter."

But Kevin Krewell, General Manager of Reed Business and analyst for In-Stat/MDR, says even with Microsoft onboard, it may be somewhat confusing for AMD to market the new chips as 64-bit just now.

"What you are buying is a really good 32-bit processor that provides the platform for the future," Krewell told internetnews.com. "These are very excellent processors that have the ability to support 64-bit applications but it would be misleading selling it openly as a 64-bit system until Microsoft or other driver support for the peripherals. Microsoft has made it clear that a 64-bit version of their XP operating system will come out with their next service pack release sometime in the first half of 2004."

Unlike the Opteron, whose model number communicates scalability, and represents the maximum number of processors supported by that model number, AMD says the Athlon 64 will continue building on previous identifiers - hence the 3200+ for the starter series.

The FX 51XX series number was picked as a random identifier and is expected to grow in increments 51, 52, 53. Crank said he loosely based it on having a mystique akin to the infamous Area 51 of UFO lore.