AMD launches 64-bit Athlon 64 chip for PCs

Ready or not, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s (AMD) strategy to bring 64-bit technology to the x86 world took its biggest step Tuesday with the launch of the Athlon 64 processor for desktop and notebook PCs.

“Our industry is hungry for another round of innovation, and some companies are bold enough to stand up and say that,” said AMD President and Chief Executive Officer Hector Ruiz during the official launch in San Francisco.

AMD released four chips Tuesday. The Athlon 64 FX-51 is the performance leader of the group, and priced accordingly at US$733 in quantities of 1,000 units. An Athlon 64 3200+ chip for desktops was launched at US$417, and notebook versions with performance ratings of 3200+ and 3000+ were introduced at US$417 and US$278, respectively, all in quantities of 1,000 units.

The performance rating system is used on AMD’s Athlon XP processors to give users an idea of their overall performance without relying on clock speed as that metric. The numbers used in the ratings system are somewhat akin to the clock speed labels used by market leader Intel Corp.’s Pentium 4 processor, so that an Athlon 64 rated at 3200+ is expected to offer similar performance to a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor.

AMD introduced a new rating scheme for the Athlon FX-51 series. The “FX” moniker denotes the series, while the number 51 appears to have been selected randomly. The FX series will be numbered in increasing increments of two, according to AMD’s Web site.

“It is odd-numbered on purpose – to stand out, much like the processor,” AMD said in a press release.

The Athlon FX-51 runs at 2.2GHz, and comes with 1MB of Level 2 cache. The Athlon 64 3200+ comes with the same amount of cache, and runs at 2GHz. On the notebook side, the Athlon 64 3200+ also runs at 2GHz, and the 3000+ runs at 1.8GHz.

Both AMD and Intel are trying to capture the hearts and wallets of hardcore gamers, and their flagship desktop chips will compete for that attention.

Last week at the Intel Developer Forum, Intel introduced the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor ahead of AMD’s launch. The Extreme Edition will be Intel’s highest performing chip when it ships in November, and its announcement was seen as a move to undercut the Athlon 64 launch.

Intel has said several times over the last year that 64-bit computing simply isn’t required on the desktop. But AMD believes that by offering users competitive 32-bit performance while giving them a path to 64-bit operating systems and applications when they are ready for it, it can capture market share.

AMD added 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set used by 32-bit Intel and AMD processors to create the AMD64 instruction set used in the Athlon 64 processors. Intel developed a different 64-bit architecture for its Itanium server processors that is incompatible with 32-bit applications written for the x86 platform.

A number of software partners announced their support for Athlon 64 Tuesday, including Microsoft Corp. which released a beta version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition.

Several hardware companies also announced support, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Fujitsu-Siemens Computers (Holding) BV. HP will ship an Athlon 64 system in the fourth quarter, and Fujitsu-Siemens has systems currently available, AMD said.

Nvidia Corp. will build chipsets for the processors, and Atheros Communications Inc. will include wireless chips that work with the new processors, the companies announced Tuesday.