AMD Tri-Core Processor In March ’08?

Some preliminary details on AMD’s planned tri-core processor have emerged, thanks to loose lips at motherboard manufacturers. The tri-core chip, first announced in September, is based on the same design as AMD’s upcoming Phenom line of processors, which will come in dual and quad core configurations.

Phenom itself is based on the same quad core design as the Quad Core Opteron, a.k.a. “Barcelona.” AMD finally released that chip in September, six months overdue. Phenom is meant to be the replacement to the long-running Athlon family of desktop processors and will use the same highly efficient multi-core design.

The tri-core chip will be a quad-core chip with one core turned off. This might allow AMD to amp up the clock speed a little, theorizes Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight64. “The power used for a fourth core can be doled out to the other three, so to the extent you are limited by power and thermals, you can pump out a little more processing power,” he said.

The tri-core chip is reported to go by the codename Toliman and will be a 65nm processor that supports the AM2+ socket, HyperTransport 3.0 and have 2MB of L3 cache. It will be launched by March 2008, according to a report in the Asian IT publication DigiTimes. “Toliman” is an alternative name for the star Alpha Centauri and the name of a city in Mexico.

AMD would not comment on unreleased products. Brookwood said the specs are right in line with the Phenom, but could not comment on the release date.

The next generation of the tri-core chip, and presumably of the Phenom line, will come in the first half of 2009. They will be based on a 45nm manufacturing process, use the new AM3 socket, support HyperTransport 3.0 and support both DDR2 and DDR3 memory.

Brookwood said customers will clearly get a more capable system with a triple core than with a dual core process. The question is how much better, and at what price. “If they get those two parameters right, it will be attractive,” he said.

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