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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  • gherald - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Search for 939 on folks, you will be pleasantly surprised! Now if we could just find a motherboard...

    I had been hopping this launch would bring the 754 prices down a bit to, say, $220 for a 3200 and $350 for a 3400, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen quite yet what with 939 starting out at $500 for the 3500 and $700 for the 3800... *sigh* ... more waiting... perhaps prices will come down by the time true PCIe motherboards are availeable.
  • amdfanboy - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Go AMD !!
  • nserra - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    "Everything here is graphics card limited even at 1024x768, but perhaps in the near future when we upgrade the video card we use in CPU and motherboard tests..." i have said this at xbit site and I say it here again!
    What about lowering games resolution and details it may help! There is a detail level in almost every game, it may help. You are testing a processor not the video card! I don't want benches in a processor review that limit the differences between processors.
    fx53 35 fps vs xp3000+ 34fps, what a difference!
  • JGF - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    #22 while I certainly agree these new prices are too high I dont agree with the wholesale gutting of prices that you're recommending. AMD deserves some decent margins, they shouldnt have to give their product away all the time. Thats unhealthy business and has really hurt amd in the past. I want a healthy amd and for that they are going to need some fatter margins on some sku's.
  • RyanVM - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Found a typo on page 13: "Winstones hare usually very static..." should be "Winstones are usually very static..."
  • XRaider - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    What the heat issues with these newer AMD cpu's? I believe I read on that French site that the new AMD's are putting out alot of thermal wattage! 100+ Can anyone confirm this? I believe the P4 3.4 puts out around 102 - 104 watts! That's alot.
  • AtaStrumf - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    I found a couple of typos if anyone would care to correct them:


    Workstation performance is more sensitive to memory bandwidth, and we do see a wider range in variation among the --3.2GHz-- (THAT WOULD BE 2,2GHz) processors in SPECviewperf.

    The pattern was the generally the same fastest to slowest of 939-949-754 (THAT WOULD BE 939-940-754)


    Since we have found the performance of the Dual-Channel Socket 940 and the Single-Channel 754 to be close when hey (THEY)ran...

    Anyway these new S939s suck a$$. Well actually their prices do. Here's what I suggest: retire Athlon XP socket A, introduce it as Socket 754 but only higher models, price 20% up, bring S754 down 33% and S939 down 50%, retire FXs. These prices now are insane.

    AMD are you listening? Of course not.
  • Viditor - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    "i'll be getting a Dual Channel for sure when the arrive. Pair that with a nice new X800 XT from ATI and i'll be sitting pretty with the flexibility of upgrading for awhile"

    Horses for courses I guess...I'll be getting one too, but I think I'm going nvidia because they appear to have a better handle on 64bit drivers...
  • vedin - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Sure would be nice if they released something more along the lines of a 3000-3300+ for 939 this year. Maybe then my brother can finally be nice and justified with an upgrade without having to spend a lot.
  • Icewind - Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - link

    Hmmm, well i'll be getting a Dual Channel for sure when the arrive. Pair that with a nice new X800 XT from ATI and i'll be sitting pretty with the flexibility of upgrading for awhile.

    Thanks again AMD, im anxious to get out of this P4 setup I have now.

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