Overclockers: The Reason AMD Withdrew the X4 960T? [Updated 5/14]

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Recently, AMD revealed that the Phenom II X4 960T will not likely make its way into the retail chain, and will remain an OEM-only chip. Both eTeknix and Anandtech have published this news recently.

The 960T is effectively a failed six-core chip that has had two cores disabled, similar to a current generation X2 or X3 being an X4 with a failed core or two. Overclockers and computing enthusiasts have jumped on the X2/X3/X4 difference and successfully unlocked disabled cores on some chips. Enabling the “Advanced Clock Calibration” (ACC) on certain motherboards unlocks the disabled cores. Newegg currently sells the 2.8 GHz Phenom II X3 720 for $99, and the 2.8 GHz Phenom II X4 925 for $133. It’s pretty easy to save $33. Some may not see it as worth the unstable system, whereas others will jump at the chance of a free lunch.

This core unlocking has been quite successful – members in our forums report that several X2 555BE chips have been unlocked to give four cores. It’s done well for AMD’s image with overclockers as getting a 100% bonus in unlocking cores is a pretty good return for a little time spent tweaking. However, the ease with which cores can be unlocked potentially poses problems to AMD.

The price difference gets bigger when the X4 goes up against the X6. The 2.8 GHz Phenom II X6 1055T currently costs $205; if the 960T were to come in at around the same price as the 925 then there would be at least $65 to be saved by unlocking cores. Definitely worthwhile to overclockers on a budget. Overclockers buying X4 chips rather than X6 parts could mean AMD lose quite a bit of profit. The X6 is their flagship processor and so I’m sure they’re making a well-deserved earning from it.

Secondly, there is potential damage to be done to AMD’s reputation. If X4 chips become X6 chips, it will not necessarily be all sunshine and rainbows. These cores are often disabled for good reason. If batches of 960T chips fail to live up to the (often quite optimistic) expectations of the vast numbers of overclockers there will be a series of news posts, forum threads and articles on how the X4 to X6 jump doesn’t work so well. Tom’s Hardware has unlocked a 960T to give six cores but warn that they believe the success rate is less than 50%.

Overclockers are a potent force in the computer hardware world now – companies take our views and usage habits into account. AMD knows that it has a following of enthuisiasts, and we will do our best to get the maximum free stuff from any chip they get their hands on. Similarly, if these overclocking and tweaking adventures end in failure or even breakage, it’s bad PR for AMD. This is despite the fact that we are essentially trying to get something for nothing.

This is all relatively new information, and we may not yet have all the facts. With the recent rumors of discussions between Apple and AMD, perhaps these 960T chips are being kept exclusively for Apple’s use? Perhaps another OEM has expressed an interest in being able to tout their equipment as being the exclusive source of turbo-charged quad core AMD chips? Such arrangements are not likely to be made public until OEM machines start shipping with 960T chips inside them.

Either way, if these chips appear in cheap OEM-built PCs I’m sure there will be more than a few AMD enthusiasts plundering cheap OEM-built machines for the hard disk, RAM, and especially these special little X4 chips. Whether the X4 960T ends up with the same reputation for free extra cores as the current crop of X2 and X3 chips remains to be seen.

Update 5/14/10: eTeknix have updated their news item, stating that the 960T is likely to be delayed but not cancelled.

David

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