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AMD unwraps 2GHz 64-bit Athlons

3200+ for regular punters, FX-51 for gamers

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AMD launched its Athlon 64 family today, unveiling the 2GHz Athlon 64 3200+ for consumers and similarly clocked Athlon 64 FX-51 for 'pro-sumer' customers seeking that little bit extra.

The difference between the two chips: the FX has a built-in dual-channel 128-bit DDR controller, while the 3200+ connects to a single-channel 64-bit memory bus. The latter works with unbuffered memory, the former with registered DIMMs.

Beyond that, both have a single HyperTransport link, according to AMD documentation provided at the launch, just like the workstation-oriented Opteron 100. "From an architecture perspective, [the FX] has a lot of similarities with the Opteron 100," said Henri Richard, AMD's worldwide sales and marketing chief. We hear the pinouts are not the same, however.

AMD claimed its own benchmarks show the FX-51 to be between ten and 20 per cent faster than a "competing 3.2GHz PC processor". The recently released Xeon MP-rebadged Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, perhaps? Alas no, just the vanilla version. The 3200+ runs between three and 22 per cent faster than the 3.2GHz Intel chip.

But what of the EE? Said chairman Jerry Sanders: "There aren't any parts available, so it's hard to do an evaluation. But our simulation expectations has 'em beat six ways a Sunday."

AMD said the chips had ushered in the age of "cinematic computing", which is odd, since we thought Nvidia had long since heralded that particularly era. But with the graphics chip maker on hand to promote the launch, staffers no doubt felt it impolite to mention their prior claim. And anyone who has seen a flick or two at the Reg's local fleapit will not necessarily welcome "cinema-quality computing". Think of all that week-old popcorn stuck to your keyboard. Urgh.

Both AMD parts are fabbed using a nine-layer copper interconnects, low-k dielectric insulation and silicon on insulator technology. Both chips' power dissipation characteristics are identical, said Richard - opening the possibility for FX-based notebooks, aimed at gamers, in the not-too-distant future.

"Technically it's very easy to integrate an Athlon FX into a desktop replacement-type [notebook]," he said. It's up to OEMs if they want to do that.

Once again, AMD was only able to trot out four top-tier Athlon 64-based system vendors, HP, Fujitsu, Fujitsu-Siemens and Packard Bell. More than 60 manufacturers and system builders around the world will support the new chips, said AMD, but it could only list 29 of them among its launch partners (more if you list some of them more than once, as AMD has).

Many vendors may choose to wait for the Q1 2004 arrival of 64-bit Windows XP, though Microsoft did release the beta 1 version today.

Meanwhile, processor production volumes are ramping up, the company said, and it expects to ship "tens of thousands" of Athlon 64s and FXs by the end of the year. Going forward, it plans to accelerate production, particularly as it moves over to a 90nm process.

By the second half of 2004, more than 50 per cent of AMD's output will be "64-bit enabled", said Sanders.

He also said that while the company expects the Athlon 64 to cascade down over time into the lower reaches of the mainstream market, AMD will consistently pitch the FX as a top-of-the-line part, by phasing out older versions as new, faster ones come on stream.

The 3200+ costs $417, the FX-51 $733. All prices are for batches of 1000. ®

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