AMD launches dual-core Athlon 64 processor

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. launched its dual-core Athlon 64 processor at the Computex trade show in Taipei on Tuesday.

Like one launched last week by Intel Corp., the chip contains two processors on a single piece of silicon and represents one of the biggest changes in PC processor architecture for several years. Dual-core chips offer users higher performance because tasks can be balanced between the two cores.

For instance, tasks such as editing video and burning discs can be done at the same time without slowing each other down. Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP operating system is already set up to take advantage of the technology, as are many applications, AMD said.

“[Everyone] will benefit dramatically and qualitatively with multi-core,” said Dirk Meyer, president and chief operating officer of AMD’s microprocessor solutions sector, at the company’s launch event.

The Athlon 64 X2 is hardware-compatible with motherboards for AMD’s single-core Athlon 64 chip, although current boards will require a BIOS (basic input output system) upgrade. The advantage of this is that boards for the chip are already on the market, and it also makes upgrading an existing system relatively simple.

The chip will initially be available in four versions, which don’t come cheap. The prices range from US$537 for the 4200+ version to $1,001 for the 4800+ version — and those prices are for bulk purchases of 1,000 chips or more. “We’ve decided to go first at the high end of the market,” said Henri Richard, executive vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, at a news conference in Taipei.

Asked if AMD’s chips might be too expensive for system integrators, especially compared to the slightly lower prices of dual-core Intel chips, Richard said Intel’s chips require a new chipset and additional cooling. As a result, the overall price difference between the companies won’t be as great as the difference in chip pricing, he said.

Several prototype systems based on the new chip were on show at the launch event. They included a consumer desktop PC from Hewlett-Packard Co., a media center PC from Wistron Corp., the Feng Xing K9000 from Lenovo Group Ltd., Acer Inc.’s Aspire T140, Iwill Corp.’s ZMax DP and Shuttle Inc.’s XPC ST20G5.

So now that they’re here, are dual-core chips for everyone?

The answer depends on your needs, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, California, who attended the AMD event. Users who recently bought a machine don’t need rush into replacing it with a dual-core model, but users just replacing their machine now might consider the dual-code chip, especially given the typical three-year lifespan for a desktop PC.

The reason: the new chips will deliver even greater performance gains when used with a 64-bit operating system. Microsoft just launched such a version of Windows but it is not easy to obtain for the average user, and there are still many issues associated with drivers for peripherals.

“If you want a machine that’s ready for Longhorn, that’s when it comes into play,” Enderle said.

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