AMD Updates Its Enthusiast CPU and Platform

Advanced Micro Devices is charging forward despite its own problems and those of the economy at large, touting new, high-performance CPUs and a second-generation platform that combines its CPU, graphics processing unit (GPU) and chipset.

With the purchase of ATI in 2006, the company gained the capability to deliver an all-in-one solution combining the three major pieces of silicon needed in a computer now under one roof. Integration and assimilation of ATI hasn’t been all that easy, but the merger has seen fruition in the debut of its first-generation CPU, GPU and chipset offering, Spider.

“It started back in 2007 — the market was looking at us and saying, ‘Hey, now that you got ATI under your roof, what are you doing for an all-AMD solution?’ So Spider was the result,” David Schwarzbach, division market manager for the Desktop group at AMD (NYSE: AMD), told

“So we’re taking the learnings from that into Dragon to find ways to make them work seamlessly together, [to] make the platform easy to find and purchase,” he added.

One of the problems with Spider was that while AMD designed the parts that made up the computer, you couldn’t find a Spider-branded or -labeled computer anywhere, except from boutique dealers. Many OEMs who made AMD motherboards didn’t even put the Spider brand on the box.

So now, for parts suppliers selling through retail channels like, Dragon-branded components will come with something like a logo program, so customers can identify Dragon-approved parts to build their own system.

The plan is for AMD to enable each of its partners, from the distribution channel to OEMs, to streamline validation of Dragon parts and platforms and make it easier to build and sell complete systems.

Heart of the Dragon

Key to Dragon is a new processor, the Phenom II. Just as the first Phenom was a desktop derivative of Barcelona — its quad-core Opteron server chip — Phenom II is the offspring of Shanghai, a newer quad-core Opteron built on a 45 nanometer design instead of Barcelona’s 65nm. This smaller die size allowed Shanghai to ship early and at a higher clock speed.

As a result, the Phenom II will be faster than the Phenom, and cooler. It comes in two models, the 920 and 940, which run at 2.8GHz and 3.0GHz, respectively. Additionally, the 940 will be unlocked, so overclockers will have a field day. Schwarzbach said during a recent overclocking event at AMD’s Austin, Texas offices that a liquid nitrogen-based system got a CPU to boot and run at 5.9GHz.

But don’t expect AMD to make that a selling point.

“These data points aren’t to say we are going to come out with a 5GHz processor,” he said. “What it says is there is an option for these do-it-yourselfers to say, ‘I can either spend $1,000 for a processor or spend a quarter of that on an AMD processor that’s unlocked, invest a portion of that into a cooling system and I got a lot of extra coin in my pocket.'”

Phenom II will introduce a new socket, the AM3, that supports DDR3 memory. However, Phenom II chips will work in current AM2/AM2+ motherboards, preserving people’s investments in older motherboards and memory.

With the CPU’s launch, AMD also plans to introduce what it calls the Fusion gaming utility, a desktop switch that turns off all background tasks, like Windows Defender or the Sidebar in Windows Vista, to give as much power as possible toward game play. Also, Phenom II will be Energy Star 5.0-compliant and will use technology, borrowed from AMD’s mobile chips, that shuts down unused segments of the CPU for power savings while idle.

Dragon’s components also include ATI’s new HD 4800 line of video cards and the 790GX chipset, both of which are already on the market. Going forward, AMD expects to get all three of its product lines in sync for simultaneous release.

AMD also has a commercial platform, the more dryly named AMD Business Class, which Schwarzbach said would be updated with these newer technologies in the third quarter of 2009. The main rationale for the delay, compared to Dragon, is to give DDR3 memory a chance to come down in price.

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