AMD to ship Athlon 64s as mobile XPs?

'Dublin' up processor roles

AMD's plan to market desktop 64-bit Athlon 64 chips as 32-bit Athlon XP chips has been the subject of much speculation for some time. But it now appears that the company may use the same trick with mobile processors, too.

According to a story on French-language site x86 Secret, a mobile chip codenamed 'Dublin' will join desktop CPUs 'Paris' and 'Victoria' in offering 256KB of on-die L2 cache. It supports PowerNow and will be fabbed at 130nm using silicon-on-insulator technology. Like Paris and Victoria, it will feature an integrated memory controller and single HyperTransport link. It will be a 754-pin device.

But it's not an AMD64 processor. Or at least it won't be sold as one. Essentially, the chip will be limited to operate in the Hammer architecture's 32-bit, legacy mode. Whether that's because AMD is utilising chips that have manufacturing glitches that cause the chip to fail in 64-bit mode, have only 256KB of operable cache, or have been deliberately set to operate only in 32-bit mode isn't know.

Since we wrote about Paris and Victoria before, a number of Reg readers expressed their concern that such a tactic was somehow an act of cheating customers on AMD's part.

We disagree. Hammer was always designed as AMD's next-generation architecture and to provide better 32-bit performance than the previous generation, which shipped under the Athlon XP brand. If AMD can leverage its production to offer better 32-bit XPs and 64-bit Athlon 64s from the same wafers, that enhances the company's yields, reduces the number of different dies it has to produce and cuts the number of Socket formats mobo makers need to support. The upshot is better financial returns, which is good for the company and for its supporters.

It's already doing the same thing, re-branding Opteron 100s as Athlon 64 FXs, and Clawhammers as both desktop and mobile Athlon 64s.

But why pay more for an Athlon 64 when I can get a Dublin or Paris Athlon XP for less money? Because you almost certainly won't be able to re-enable either the full 1MB of cache or the 64-bit extensions. As in most aspects of life, you get what you pay for.

Of course, if some clever so-and-so discovers that you can enable these features with stability, then AMD will have cocked up, big time.

Dublin is due to sample during Q1 2004 before going into full-scale production in the middle of the year. If the claims regarding the cut-down nature of the chip is accurate - the Hammer architecture is modular, so AMD could simply be offering a new die with the AMD64 components removed rather than selling otherwise useless Athlon 64s - sampling ties in with the anticipated full-volume availability of the Athlon 64. Paris is due to ship during Q1 2004 too.

Dublin may also be pitched as the low-power alternative to the Mobile Athlon 64. AMD has promised new mobile chips next year which will extend AMD64 into the thin'n'light notebook market. It's not hard to imagine that Dublin is a 32-bit version of one of these chips, just as Paris is the 32-bit version of the current Athlon 64. ®

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