AMD launches four-core motherboard

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) launched a motherboard with four cores on Thursday, targeting gaming enthusiasts in an effort to keep pace with the release of quad-core chips by rival Intel Corp.

AMD’s Quad FX Platform includes two dual-core Athlon 64 FX-70 series chips and uses Nvidia Corp.’s 680a chipset. AMD’s choice of components shows it is willing to follow open standards even though the company acquired Nvidia’s rival ATI Technologies Inc. earlier this month, said Ian McNaughton, product manager for Athlon 64 FX products.

The launch highlights a debate in the industry about the definition of quad-core processors. Intel has claimed it won the quad-core race on Nov. 14 by packaging two dual-core chips together in the Xeon 5300 for servers and Core 2 Extreme QX6700 for gamers.

But AMD calls its Quad FX Platform a “4×4,” and says it won’t release a true “quad-core” processor until 2007, when it combines four cores on a single piece of silicon called “Barcelona.” Analysts say they won’t be able to judge the winner of the debate until they can test comparable products.

In the meantime, one thing is certain: a PC with four computing cores can run a lot of applications at once. PC vendors who use the Quad FX will attract more than just hard-core gamers, McNaughton said. A desktop with four computing cores can be a workstation for “megataskers,” those users who watch high-definition video while burning a DVD, downloading a BitTorrent file, and chatting on a TeamSpeak connection, even as their PC runs antivirus software, Skype and instant messaging applications in the background.

“The PC usage model has changed. It’s evolving, it’s getting crazy and we love it,” he said. “People are doing four, five, six things at the same time.”

Of course, gamers are still a core audience for this product. The extra cores will allow fans of multiplayer online games to play two instances of the game simultaneously, controlling two characters in a single episode of EverQuest, World of Warcraft or Lineage, according to AMD.

Many of these gamers have been using AMD’s Opteron server chip to manage their heavy computing loads, McNaughton said. The Quad FX Platform will be a more efficient tool for the job and will allow them to upgrade to a pair of quad-core Barcelona chips in the middle of 2007.

As the hardware industry relies increasingly on multicore designs, chip power is measured by scalability and efficiency, not just frequency, said AMD spokesman Bubba Wolford. That development is pushing chip vendors to grow from being simple component suppliers to selling entire platforms. AMD has followed that trend to produce its AMD Live product for media center PCs and now the Quad FX.

AMD is selling the Quad FX Platform with three types of chips built with a 90-nanometer process, charging US$599 for a pair of 2.6 GHz FX-70 chips, $799 for a pair of 2.8 GHz FX-72 chips, and $999 for a pair of 3.0 GHz FX-74 chips, if purchased in lots of 1,000 units.

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