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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  • Neosis - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link


    the Kentsfield has exactly the same latency as a 2 socket dual core because the 2 dual cores on-board don't talk directly with each other.

    However (in my opinion) since all these four cores share the same 8MB L2 cache and Intel's memory disambiguation forces all cores to use L2 cache more, additional latencies are not significant as the Amd's 4x4 platform. But you are right again that connecting the dies through the FSB requires all die to die communication to go back to the Northbridge and into the system memory. That can be a serios perfomance issue when Amd has competing processers.
  • mino - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Kentsfield == 2 Conroes stuck on 1 FSB. They have _separate_ 4M L2 cache. No 8M L2 on the horizon.. Reply
  • Neosis - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Where is edit button?

    The first sentence should be "I think ..."
  • Neosis - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I don't think AMD can compete with Kenstfield even with this platform. Enthuiasts usually don't care power consumption and heat problems. A water cooling system (with a large radiator and a strong pump) will do just good. The main concern is neither the power consumption nor the heat problems. When you install two dual core processor, you are going to have performance down due to the increased latency. Nearly in all benchmarks Intel is leading. No suprise that only one motherboard manufacturer was in on.

    Even though I'm an AMD user, I don't see any particular reason people will buy this. But I can say why not:
    - no one knows how long Amd will support this platform. In the past years Amd has beem changing sockets almost each year and half. We know Socket Am3 will use Ddr3.
    - pricing
  • Griswold - Saturday, December 02, 2006 - link


    - no one knows how long Amd will support this platform. In the past years Amd has beem changing sockets almost each year and half. We know Socket Am3 will use Ddr3.

    Well the first part isnt quite true or very precise, as for the second part, we also know that AM3 CPUs will run in AM2 sockets (but not vice versa). On top of that, we're talking about Socket F here and not AMx.

    If you want to name a good reason to not buy this: The other option is just that much better. End of story. If you want quad AMD, wait 6 months.
  • Gigahertz19 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    On black Friday I was at Circuit City and some store employee near me was telling this woman who was looking for a computer to make sure she buys a computer with a AMD processor because their faster and all around better. I couldn't stand there and let him lie to that woman so I went over there and told her she needs to buy a comp with a Core 2 Duo and gave my reasons. Then the Circuit City guy went into this rant about AMD and the 5000+ processor and how it's the best, haha apparently he hasn't updated his knowledge for quite sometime. I could of stood there and argued it but I just said okay and walked away, didn't walk to make a how geeky would that be arguing over processors in the middle of a store where customers are.

    Anyways looks like Intel Core 2 Duo tech is the thing to get. I'm stilling running a old XP-M overclocked with a DFI Socket A mobo. I want to upgrade to Core 2 Duo sometime soon probably get the Core 2 E6600 only because it has 4Mb cache and the slower speed ones don't. Overclock that baby to 3GHz which should be a given with the right mobo like the Evga one and I'll have a awesome system, probably buy a X1950 XT or Pro for around $250 then upgrade to DX10 when it gets cheaper.
  • madnod - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    i am really into AMD and i was buying AMD since the last 4 years, but this time intel isreally pushing ahead.
    there is a major thing that intel is doing these days and it's really funny to see the way AMD is responding to that, it kinda remind me of the 3DFX approach, start stacking more things that u already have and wish that things will be better.
    AMD should expedite their transition to the newer CPU desgin, the current K8 architecture can't keep up with the core technology.
  • THX - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Very nice tests. I can't believe the power draw AMD is dealing with here. Reply
  • Ecmaster76 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    The pin count of AM2 probably isn't an issue. It has as many pins as 940 which can handle multiple HT links and dual channel memory.

    AMD just moved it tot he other socket to people from buying the bundled CPUs and selling them individually for a profit. The 2.6 GHz model for example runs about $100 less per chip than the standard X2 does.
  • punjabiplaya - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Are we going to see updated benchmarks with 64 bit performance and/or Vista and when there is a BIOS fix for the NUMA issues on the board (not the WinXP shortfalls as far as NUMA is concerned, Vista should take care of that)?
    Just curious.

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