Imagine for a moment you're at the decision making table at AMD; you are at least a year away from introducing an updated micro-architecture to refresh your now aging K8 design and your chief competitor just introduced faster and cooler CPUs than anything in your lineup. To make matters worse, this very same competitor enjoys a manufacturing advantage and has also announced that it will begin the transition to quad-core even earlier than originally expected, starting at the end of 2006. The earliest you can even hope to release a quad-core CPU is the middle of 2007. What do you do?

AMD's first move made sense, and that was to dramatically reduce the pricing of its entire lineup to remain competitive. Most computer components are not things you can buy and sell off of emotions alone, and thus something that performs worse must cost less. Through the price drops AMD actually ended up with a fairly attractive dual core lineup, although our similarly aggressive pricing from Intel meant that the most attractive AMD CPUs were the cheapest ones.

But what was AMD to do about the quad-core race? Even though Intel would release its first quad-core CPUs this year, less than 1% of all shipments would feature four cores. It won't be until the end of 2007 before more than 5% of Intel's shipments are quad-core CPUs. But would the loss in mindshare be great enough if Intel already jumped ahead in the race to more cores?

Manufacturing a quad-core Athlon 64 or Opteron on AMD's current 90nm process simply isn't feasible; AMD would end up with a chip that is too big and too hot to sell, not to mention that it would put an even greater strain on AMD's manufacturing which is already running at capacity.

With the 90nm solution being not a very good one, there's always the "wait until 2007" option, which honestly seemed like a very good one to us. We just mentioned that Intel wasn't going to be shipping many of these quad-core CPUs and the majority of users, even enthusiasts who are traditionally early adopters, will stay away from quad-core until 2007 at the earliest to begin with.

Then there's the third option, the one AMD ended up taking; instead of building quad-core on 90nm or waiting until next year, around April/May of 2006 AMD decided that it had a better solution. AMD would compete in the quad-core race by the end of 2006 but with two dual core CPUs running in a desktop motherboard.

Of course dual-core, dual-socket is nothing new, as AMD has been offering that on Opteron platforms for quite a while now. But the difference is that this new platform would be designed for the enthusiast, meaning it would come equipped with a performance tuned (and tweakable) BIOS, tons of USB ports, support for SLI, etc... Most importantly, unlike an Opteron system, this dual socket desktop platform would run using regular unbuffered DDR2 memory.

Back then the platform was called 4x4, and honestly it was about as appealing as a pickup truck. The platform has since matured and thanks to a very impressive chipset from NVIDIA and aggressive pricing from AMD, what's now known as Quad FX may actually have some potential. Today we're here to find out if AMD's first four-core desktop platform is a viable competitor to Intel's Kentsfield, or simply an embarrassing knee-jerk reaction.

The Platform
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  • peternelson - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link


    I image www.Scan.co.uk in the UK will stock both boards and cpus at realistic street pricing.

    And I am seriously thinking of getting one, to put lots of PCIe cards into, and for use WITH A NUMA AWARE OPERATING SYSTEM.

    Who knows, Asus may even release a bios upgrade for it!

    And also note that there is a similar Asus "Deluxe" board not just the WS workstation variant, so may be a little cheaper.

    My other options are a dual socket Opteron board (with expensive memory) or a Core2Quad, using Nvidia 680i chipset which gives less I/O capacity.
    Reply
  • Anonymous Freak - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Or, you could go for a dual socket Xeon system. It would cost near the same, and you'd have the option of two quad-core processors RIGHT NOW. (Rather than late next year.)

    Of course, then you run into more expensive (and more power-hungry) memory. But if you are actually looking at such a system, a Xeon might be a better fit.
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    The problem IS the memory and I/O, these are the strenghts of this solution.

    Prices of cheap 4C WS solutions:

    HIGHEST PERFORMANCE 4C: -> systems have comparable performance (Vista/XPx64 in account)
    -------------------------------------------------
    ***Quad FX:
    1pc FX-74 $1000
    1pc MB $350
    4pcs 1G RAM $400
    1pc Fortron PSU $100
    0pcs 8-port SATA controller $0
    ----------------
    Total: $1750

    ***Core 2 Quad:
    1pc QX6700 $1000
    1pc MB $250
    4pcs 1G RAM $400
    1pc Fortron PSU $60
    1pc 8-port SATA controller $150
    ---------------
    Total: $1860

    BEST VALUE 4C: -> systems have comparable performance[except QX6700] (Vista/XPx64 in account)
    -------------------------------------------------
    ***Quad FX:
    1pc FX-70 $600
    1pc MB $350
    4pcs 1G RAM $400
    1pc Fortron PSU $100
    0pcs 8-port SATA controller $0
    ----------------
    Total: $1350

    ***Core 2 Quad:
    1pc QX6700 $1000
    1pc MB $250
    4pcs 1G RAM $400
    1pc Fortron PSU $60
    1pc 8-port SATA controller $150
    ---------------
    Total: $1860

    ***Opteron 2000:
    2pcs 2216 $1200
    1pc MB $400
    4pcs 1G RAM $600
    1pc Fortron PSU $100
    1pc 8-port SATA controller $150
    ---------------
    Total: $2450

    ***Xeon 5100:
    2pcs 5150 $1200
    1pc MB $400
    4pcs 1G RAM $700
    1pc Fortron PSU $100
    1pc 8-port SATA controller $150
    ---------------
    Total: $2550

    IDEAL WS/PC Solution: (best value proposition, upgrade possible when necessary)
    ----------------------------------------------
    1/2pcs FX-70 $300
    1pc MB $350
    2pcs 1G RAM $200
    1pc Fortron PSU $60
    0pcs 8-port SATA controller $0
    ---------------
    Total: $910

    The funny thing beeing, the biggest value of QuadFX is in the exceptional motherboard. Except those those 10 not routed USB ports, that board is a dream come true.

    And yes, those 12 SATA3G ports would be a blessing for my storage needs...
    Reply
  • peternelson - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link


    Nice costings, I'm thinking the same here.

    That board has lots of I/O bandwidth.

    Since the Gbit ether ports support teaming (2 muxed together), I would have thought it worthwhile for Asus to implement all four rather than two.

    Four used separately would make nice routing between lans, and four used as two teamed pairs would give > 1Gbps performance in and out eg as a firewall, or as a server with redundant connection, or to talk to NAS boxes etc. Two extra nets wouldn't push the power consumption up by much.

    Hopefully Asus (or other) will produce a rev2 board with the extra ethernets.
    Reply
  • Lonyo - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    quote:

    You also get all twelve SATA ports, but there's only support for ten USB ports and two GigE ports. Obviously the number of people that will complain about not having all twenty USB ports and four GigE ports are limited, but with AMD expecting the L1N64-SLI WS to retail for around $370, we wanted all of the bells and whistles.


    There's support for 14 USB ports AFAIK, 4 on the back, and 5 headers on the mobo, which makes 14 I think, which still isn't 20, but it's more than enough, and it's more than 10 :P
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    No, those 2 headers are for IEEE1394... Reply
  • SLIM - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Is this just a prelim review only talking about the processors and the real review is still to come? I mean the only reason for this platform to exist is the 4 GPUs not the cpus. Let's see 4 8800gtx's with the FX74s playing at insane resolutions in games that intel simply can't fathom due to the lack of support for 4 gpus (at least as far as I know of).

    The 4 gpus are the point of this platform, not power consumption, not 3dsmax... GAMES WITH 4 GPUS! I don't mean to be too abrupt, but the boards got 4 graphics slots for a reason.
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    A single 8800gtx is already being bottlenecked by a core 2, let alone them in SLI.

    Quad SLI will not have any performance advantage over SLI, as the processing power to feed them is just not there.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I dread to think what the power consumption of a system with the FX-74s and four 8800GTX cards would be. It would probably be close to 1KW, possibly even around 1100W or so. That would be insane! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Given that this "4x4" initiative is apparently going to use NVIDIA graphics cards, and NVIDIA makes both AMD and Intel chipsets, if they decide to do anything with quad G80 chips you can pretty much guarantee that it will be for both platforms. Thus, 4x4 is really 2x2 right now, whereas the 775 platform is 1x4 and Xeon is 2x4. In the future, AMD will have 2x4, and perhaps all the platforms will support some silly quad GPU configuration.

    Basically, quad SLI was all about the pissing contest. "Oh yeah, well I have for GPUs and you only have two!" Then there was the completely bogus marketing material that they sent out with quad SLI talking about how great the extra GPUs would be for accelerating physics calculations. I suppose it's possible that in the future such applications will become useful, but almost a year after the initial talk of NVIDIA physics acceleration and we have yet to see any actual demonstration of this capability. Anyway, this Quad FX is just the same thing as Quad SLI: potentially good marketing, but lackluster final performance and terrible heat and power requirements.
    Reply

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