Beyond Dual Core: 2007 Desktop CPU Road Map - <strong>The high end: Quad FX rumbles in</strong>

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AMD battles back (continued)

The high end: Quad FX rumbles in

In early December of 2006, AMD released three new performance-oriented processors -- the 3-GHz Athlon 64 FX-74, the 2.8-GHz FX-72 and the 2.6-GHz FX-70 -- under the chipmaker's newly introduced Quad FX line. Based upon a new dual-socket Socket 1207 motherboard and AMD's enterprise-class Opteron CPU architecture, Quad FX processors are purchased in pairs, one per socket. Early performance benchmarks have indicated that these CPUs are indeed suitable for the "megatasking" environments AMD has constructed them for.

In 2007, AMD will continue to build out this Quad FX line with the Q2 release of the Athlon 64 FX-76. The FX-76 will have a clock speed of 3.2 GHz and 1MB of L2 cache per core. This, like the FX-74, FX-72 and FX-70, will be fabricated on the older 90nm process. AMD has indicated that these will be the last of the FX CPUs to be built on a 90nm process.

65nm 'Agena' makes its debut

In early Q3 2007, AMD is planning to release a brand-new performance-oriented 65nm CPU architecture code-named "Agena," and it sounds like a high-performance dream. This new processor line will be the first "native" quad-core processor released by either AMD or Intel. (When used with a multicore processor, the term native refers to a processor with all the individual CPU cores integrated on a single die. To date, all previous quad-core processors have essentially been two dual-core processors attached together.)

One other impressive attribute of the Agena FX processor is that it will operate at a bus speed of 4 GHz, thanks to the 3.0 iteration of AMD's HyperTransport link that will debut at the same time. This doubles the bus speed of previous FX and other Athlon 64 processors. The Agena FX quad core will feature 2MB of shared L2 cache and 2MB of L3 cache. (L3 cache functions in a similar manner to L2 cache, but it's a little slower and is consequentially less expensive.)

Preliminary information has revealed that Agena FX processors will run at clock speeds between 2.7 GHz and 2.9 GHz. It's likely that we'll see two or three different Agena FX processors when they're released, possibly under Quad FX-8x model numbers.

It's too early to say for sure, but the native single-die nature of these CPUs and the shift to 65nm should result in a massive performance boost. One other interesting attribute of the Agena FX processors is that using them with the Quad FX platform, which uses two CPU sockets, will likely allow AMD to be the first chipmaker to release an eight-core platform. By the end of the summer, high-end enthusiasts will be able to run two Agena FX processors at the same time.

CPUs for the masses: Socket AM2+ and Kuma

AMD's rapid embrace of quad-core processing at the high end of CPU performance does not mean that the chipmaker is leaving mainstream dual-core computing out in the cold.

In the middle of 2007, AMD will revise Socket AM2 to increase energy efficiency and bus speed. Currently scheduled for release at the end of Q2 2007, this revision will be named Socket AM2+.

Finally, in Q3 2007, AMD will release a new series of 65nm native dual-core processors aimed squarely at the mainstream consumer market. Currently code named "Kuma," these processors -- which emphasize power consumption and high performance-per-watt yields -- will operate at clock speeds from 2 GHz to 2.9 GHz and will contain 1MB of shared L2 cache and 2MB of shared L3 cache.

These processors will be compatible with the all-new Socket AM2+ and as such will feature bus speeds of 4 GHz. At press time, AMD had yet to reveal model names or numbers for Kuma-based CPUs.

Don't miss the rest of Forecast 2007.

George Jones is the editorial director of IDG Entertainment.