The past year has been quite a ride. With the introduction of the Opteron, and later the Athlon 64, AMD has proven that it can stretch beyond just designing processors. As much as the original K7 architecture was a solid processor, AMD have really done something special with the Athlon 64 architecture. Creating a chip that performs well in current systems while taking a step past Intel into x86-64 support is no small feat.

Of course, that's not to say that everything has gone smoothly for AMD. Opteron and Athlon 64 were delayed before their initial release, and we didn't see parts until much later than we had expected. When the parts finally arrived, they performed very well, but the overclocking that AMD had been known for in the Athlon XP line was definitely lacking. To top it off, Athlon 64 was released with a single channel memory controller while it's big brother the Opteron had dual channel support (which is perceivably part of the reason the part was so much faster than the Athlon 64 line).

As a result, almost since its launch, enthusiasts have been waiting for Socket 939 to bring dual channel memory to the Athlon 64 line. In addition, the chipsets that will be powering 939 pin motherboards will be capable of a 1GHz Hypertransport bus (with PCI locks) hopefully giving them a little more stability and overclockability than the original Athlon 64 line had. On the desktop side, in the interim, we saw 512kB cache (cheaper mass market) revisions of the Athlon 64 bring us the 2800+ and 3000+ processors, which both performed very well for their price point. This worked well because the Athlon 64 isn't heavily pipelined and is less effected by cache than the Pentium 4 line of processors.

In addition to expanding into lower cost markets, AMD needed an ultra high end desktop part to show off its potential to the world. The FX-51 and FX-53 have really put AMD on top of the desktop market in terms of gaming performance, though these parts arguably don't have as much value (price to performance wise) as the cheaper but very highly performing Athlon 64 processors. Unfortunately, in order to introduce these enthusiast parts with dual channel memory very quickly, AMD essentially just tweaked and rebranded their opteron processor and made socket 940 another desktop platform.

Unfortunately, those who want the higher performing (and higher priced) FX processor also need to shell out more money for a higher end motherboard than needed and slower, more expensive, registered RAM. Moving to 939 will bring a single platform to the desktop and give users one less choice to have to make in their purchasing decisions.

One of the major issues with having multiple generations of processors with different memory controllers is that AMD has to be careful about not allowing CPUs with different memory controllers to fit into the sockets of unsupported motherboard. This means that every new generation of memory controller for AMD will bring a new socket to the market. Intel is able to be a little more agile in this area, as the memory controller is in the chipset. This is only an issue when bad decisions are made, such as when Intel decided to adopt RDRAM. They might not have been able to switch back over to DDR so quickly had they fabbed all their processors with a RAMBUS memory controller on the die.

So, today we are seeing the introduction of socket 939 for the AMD Athlon 64 and FX. The bottom line is that we are seeing the same VIA and NVIDIA chipset based motherboards with a different socket attached accepting processors with nothing new but a dual channel unbuffered memory controller. What exactly does this mean, and what kind of performance can we expect?

What's In A New Socket
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  • Viditor - Saturday, June 5, 2004 - link

    #37 - "Doesn't seem to me to make any sense spending 5 Grand on a 64 bit system until the OS is available?"

    5 GRAND?!?!?!
    What are you PUTTING in there?
    Even the most expensive (FX53) chip is ~$840, and the ASUS mobo is ~$190...
  • tmhartsr - Friday, June 4, 2004 - link

    Hey guys - where is the 64 bit OS? Doesn't seem to me to make any sense spending 5 Grand on a 64 bit system until the OS is available? Also really need PCI Express MOBO. But especially - how about an update on the OS. Perfect opportunity for an Apple OS-64 written especially for the AMD 64?!#*
  • Falco. - Thursday, June 3, 2004 - link

    will the S754/940 heat sink and fans work with 939 ??
  • XRaider - Wednesday, June 2, 2004 - link

    Thanks Viditor, I appreciate it! :) I will have to keep my eyes open on this heat stuff and see what other people will state about this.
  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Pretty interesting, but I'm not super surprised by the results. I would imagine that the 3700+ CPU would be about the same distance from the 3800+ as the 3400+ is from the 3500+. Given the prices, I really don't see much reason for celebrating the release (finally!) of socket 939.

    I did some speculation on some other forums about some related issues AMD and Intel seem to be encountering, for any who want to read a longer post:
  • Viditor - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    XRaider - To be clear, AMD and Intel actually report 2 different numbers when they talk about heat dissapation.
    AMD reports the MAXIMUM TDP FOR THE WHOLE CPU LINE (both now and in the future...) This means that 104watts is the max thermal design power (the absolute worst it could get) for all 939 cpus at 13nm.

    Intel reports ONLY THE "TYPICAL" TDP FOR THE SPECIFIED CHIP. This means that Intel runs a series of software (they won't release WHICH software they use) and measure the power at that time. They don't report the actual maximum theoretical thermal levels. Intel have a different TDP listed for each processor, and often a different TDP for different stepping of processors.

    So, to answer your question (sorry about the length), while the 939 line of parts have an absolute theoretical max of 104 watts, you will probably see it somewhere in the 80's...
  • mikeymasta - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    These benchmarks look great, but I REALLY would appreciate it if we could see some OpenSSL benchmarks?
    Because I would love to get my boss to get an AMD based server but hes one of those know all "Intel' is always better type people
    In the server enviroment just an openssl benchmark could turn things around.
    Just install linux or FreeBSD, you could even use a live linux CD so you dont have to install and then just type "openssl speed"
    most linux dists would have openssl in
    /usr/bin/openssl speed > speed_log 2>&1
    to log it to a file
    We are thinking about getting the Sun based AMD but it costs a lot!

    If you could do that for all new CPU benchmarks I would be very happy.
  • Pumpkinierre - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    #23 The french site said the spec is 104W and found the heatsink temp (applied above) to be 50C under load and 60C@1.8V overclocking (216MHz) on a 3800+ using a MSI K8Nneo2 (nf3-250) and Asus A8V (K8T800pro). Overall they stated that the cpu ran hot compared to S754 a64s:

    Both mobos BIOSs defaulted to DDR333 with 4 double sided DIMMS.

    Xbit say that 104W is the overall spec for S939 but present 130nm cpus stay at 89W TDP (Prescott anyone?). However the temps (cpu diode-Asus A8V)are mildly frightening: 41-64 (idle-load) for the 3800+ but the 3500+ is the coolest 38-58. They even get 40-60C with the 3400+ (but dont quote ambient) which still makes me wonder about the coolness of these cpus. They got the 3500+ to 232MHz FSB and the 3800+ to 215 but didnt quote the voltage. They quoted the same AMD info for the DIMMS:

    All in all it looks like the heat issues arent confined to Intel biut Cool and Quiet might help out.
  • Pollock - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    "In the final analysis, we aren't talking about the be all end all of platforms and performance, but, certainly, anyone who wants an Athlon 64 system should look no further than socket 939 for its flexibility, overclockability, and performance."
    I don't remember reading much about overclockability anywhere? Yeah, maybe a statement about the higher HT speed possibly helping, but I want to know more than that!
  • SHO235V8 - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Derek, what about the compatability issues and heat issues? Any news on these fronts and when will these parts be available? I have been waiting for the 939 for some time and my desktop gets slower everyday! Thanks ;)

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