AMD 760MP & Athlon MP - Dual Processor Heavenby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 5, 2001 12:00 PM EST
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Support for multiprocessor (MP) configurations has almost always been present in AMD CPUs. In fact, the AMD K6 supported MP operation; however, it lacked the chipset support to bring it to the MP market. The CPU wouldn’t have done too well in that market in any case, but the technology to take it there was present.
The original Athlon released in 1999 was perfect for MP systems as well, especially since when it first came out it was offering performance greater than that of Dual Pentium III systems while only being used in a single processor configuration. Unfortunately, AMD had enough problems getting the Athlon accepted as a single processor desktop solution, much less an MP workstation/server platform.
Since then, the Athlon has enjoyed tremendous success in the performance desktop market; it was only a matter of time before it was finally paired up with a truly high-end platform to try to attain the same type of success in the server and workstation markets. However, in order to succeed in these two markets AMD cannot be dependent on companies like ALi and VIA to provide chipsets for their processors as neither of the aforementioned companies even intends to branch out into the truly high-end workstation and server markets anytime soon. Instead, AMD took it upon themselves to design the chipset that would drive their Athlon processor into the workstation/serer markets: the 760MP chipset.
Unlike the desktop 760 chipset, AMD does intend to manufacture the 760MP chipset for as long as there is demand. Their roadmap doesn't have the 760MP being replaced by a third party solution anytime soon, mainly because of reliability issues. The 760MP has been going through revisions for two years now, with AMD insistent on making its launch as picture-perfect as possible. While AMD has gained clout in the enthusiast market because they are much more reliable than they once were, the same reputation doesn't follow in the workstation and server markets. The immense amount of testing that the 760MP has been through virtually guarantees it to be the most reliable Socket-A chipset ever to be made available.
On the CPU front, the 760MP's release is accompanied by the first server version of the Athlon core. Just three weeks ago AMD announced their mobile Athlon 4 processor, which is based on the Palomino core. The server version of the Athlon is also based on the same Palomino core but carries a different name, much like how Intel’s Xeon uses the Willamette core but carries a different name from the desktop Pentium 4. The name of the server Athlon is the Athlon MP, the MP obviously coming from the fact that the CPU is validated by AMD for operation in multiprocessor mode. From an architectural standpoint, the Athlon MP is no different from the mobile Athlon 4. Although AMD introduced new naming for some of the features of the Athlon MP such as Smart MP Technology, the same features are present in the mobile Athlon 4.
Although Athlon MP is the only CPU that is validated by AMD for operation in dual processor (DP) mode, it isn’t the only processor that works in DP configurations. In fact, the first and only 760MP motherboard being released today was tested and debugged using regular Athlons with Thunderbird cores. Even Durons will work in DP mode without any problems, but AMD is only officially supporting configurations with Dual Athlon MPs. This is somewhat like Intel’s insistence that the Celeron would not work in MP mode, though ABIT obviously proved them wrong with their BP6, which was designed with DP Celerons in mind.
We will get into the technology behind the Athlon MP and the 760MP chipset later in this article, but first it’s important to establish the rules of the game when it comes to the high-end workstation and server markets that the Athlon MP and 760MP target.