RealTime IT News

AMD Shipping 64-Bit Athlon for Notebooks

With the release of its 64-bit processors in servers and desktops behind it, AMD has set its sights on mainstream notebook computers with four new Athlon chips.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker began shipping its new Mobile AMD Athlon 64 processors 3200+, 3000+ and 2800+ (priced at $293, $233 and $193, respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities) to manufacturers. The processors are Windows-compatible and include improved virus protection. The company said security improvements planned for Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (due in the second half of 2004) will take advantage of AMD64 technology.

AMD said its collaboration with Microsoft could have made nearly half of the Microsoft Windows Security Updates and patches in the last two years unnecessary for AMD64 users.

Despite a decision by some vendors hold off on 64-bit processors in their repertoire, more than 60 manufacturers including HP , Fujitsu Siemens, Fujitsu, Packard Bell and eMachines, already support AMD's new chips. For example, the 3200+ began appearing in configure-to-order Compaq Presario 8000Z desktop PCs back in November and as an option in configure-to-order HP Pavilion a450e desktop PCs in December. Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Fujitsu Ltd. said they would offer desktop systems with the new chips immediately.

AMD also announced the its Athlon 64 processor 3400+ (priced at $417 in 1,000-unit quantities) for desktop PCs and desktop-replacement notebooks. The company said the processor will be supported by HP's configure-to-order desktop PC line in early 2004. Not-so-whitebox manufacturers Voodoo PC and Alienware have announced plans to offer high-performance notebooks based on the AMD Athlon 64 processor 3400+ later this quarter.

All of the new processors are compatible with current wireless LAN technologies including 802.11g .

The choice to take 64-bit mobile is expected to increase the heat on AMD rival Intel whose only 64-bit family continues to be its Itanium processor. AMD says its added advantage is that the Athlon 64 family is also backwards compatible with 32-bit applications. Intel is reportedly working on a set of 64-bit extensions that would accomplish the same objective, but the technology (code-named Yamhill) is not expected to debut in Pentium chips until 2005.

"Because mobile customers increasingly use laptops for digital media applications that demand incredibly high levels of performance, they are increasingly concerned with premature obsolescence," said Rob Enderle principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

And while the number of 64-bit software applications is limited, AMD is helping ISVs bring the technology mainstream by promoting its chips as the answer to consumer's prayers for better performance in digital media products, from digital cameras to digital music players that topped their wish lists in the recent holiday season. So far AMD has tacked on more than 250 infrastructure partners to support its AMD64 platform including CD and DVD-burning firm Ahead Software and game developers

"People want more performance from their computers when it comes to digital media applications," said Jerome Rota, DivX Networks' co-founder and codec team lead. "We are optimizing our official video encoding product, Dr. DivX, for the AMD64 platform and expect it to be available later this quarter. With it, consumers can create DivX video from any source faster than ever before because AMD64 technology can speed the process by as much as 18 percent."

At its baseline, Athlon 64 chips come with an integrated memory controller -- a 128-bit, dual-channel design supporting DDR266 and DDR333 SDRAM. The chips also offer support for SSE, SSE2, MMX, 3DNow! technology and legacy x86 instructions. The chips also include AMD's HyperTransport technology to I/O devices complete with three links, 16-bits in each direction. Each supports up to 1600 MT/s or 3.2 GB/s in each direction. Each link can connect to an I/O device or another processor.

But to prevent users from getting 3rd-degree burns from all the heat a 64-bit chip might put out, AMD includes what it calls "Cool'n'Quiet" technology. The idea is to work with AMD's PowerNow! platform to automatically adjust system power consumption when the chip is not running on all cycles. The new mobile chips also run at 30 percent less power consumption than AMD's desktop Athlon 64 processor, the company said.