Beyond Dual Core: 2007 Desktop CPU Road Map - AMD battles back

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AMD battles back (and takes the eight-core lead)

At the beginning of last year, AMD was the CPU darling in terms of performance and the all-important price-performance ratio. This run of dominance ended with a thud in the summer of 2006 when Intel released its stunning new Core microprocessor architecture. Based on a highly efficient 65nm fabrication process -- a process AMD just reached at the end of 2006 -- this new architecture produced results that swiftly relegated AMD CPUs to also-ran status. Much to AMD's chagrin, benchmark result after benchmark result declared Core 2 processors the winners.

Interestingly, while AMD was left scrambling to keep up with Intel on the performance and performance-per-watt fronts for both desktop and laptop CPUs, the company experienced one of its best years ever. In January 2006, reports indicated that AMD CPUs were dominating market share on PC desktops in the United States to the tune of 85% to Intel's 15%. Even longtime Intel stalwart Dell Inc. got into the movement, inking a deal to use AMD CPUs in some Dell PCs.

But this success was largely fueled by price-performance advantages that existed prior to the release of the Core 2 Duo line. How will AMD respond in the coming year to what appears to be a clear technology advantage on Intel's part?

Part of the answer to this question appears to reside outside of the realm of CPUs. In July, AMD announced a whopper of an acquisition as it took over venerable graphics and chip set manufacturer ATI Technologies Inc. It's not likely that this acquisition will have a significant impact upon AMD's 2007 CPU forecast above and beyond the growing pains and distractions that a large acquisition can create.

Read on to find out the details about AMD's push to a smaller fabrication process, an all-new Socket AM3 and the alluring potential of eight- and sixteen-core processors.

The push to 65nm

One of the chief advantages Intel wields over AMD is the ability to deploy new technology at a more rapid pace. This was made clear in the early part of 2006, when Intel pushed out a 65nm series of processors many months ahead of AMD.

In December, AMD finally caught up with the release of four new 65nm dual-core processors in its X2 line: the Athlon 64 X2 5000+, 4800+, 4400+ and 4000+. These processors operate at clock speeds of 2.6 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.1 GHz respectively. Each has 1MB of shared L2 cache and support for AMD's virtualization and 64-bit technologies.

In the second quarter of 2007, AMD will release two more 65nm processors at the high end of this product series. The X2 5200+ will run at 2.7 GHz, while the 5400+ will operate at 2.8 GHz. Like the rest of the processors in this lineup, the 5400+ and 5200+ will support virtualization and 64-bit technology.

It's highly likely that AMD will release more 65nm processors into this lineup throughout the year. In the second half of 2007 and possibly sooner, buyers and systems integrators will likely see 65nm X2 5600+, 5800+ and 6000+ parts as well as conversions of lower-run CPUs such as the 3800+.

As soon as January or February, AMD will also release a single-core 65nm Athlon processor. Code-named "Lima," these processors will be introduced as the Athlon 64 3800+ and the 3500+. In the second quarter of 2007, AMD will release an Athlon 64 4000+ CPU on this same 65nm process. All of these processors will have 512K of L2 cache.

Also in the second quarter, AMD plans to release four single-core Sempron processors fabricated on the new 65nm process: the 2.2-GHz Sempron 3800+, the 2-GHz 3600+, the 1.8-GHz 3500+ and the 1.8-GHz 3400+. These processors will have 256K of L2 cache, with the exception of the Sempron 3500+, which will have only a 128K cache.