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

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


Archer0915's Avatar
I thought the unlocking would end.

This stuff got abused and in the end made AMD look bad. I saw many people return them because they could not get them to unlock.

Here is the question. Does it cost more to eat perfectly good chips that have been abused and tortured or loose some sales to these people who only buy to attempt an unlock? I am sure they did the math. GO AMD!!!
Bobnova's Avatar
My bet is that it disappeared because the 1055t is already quite cheap, and he 960t would have forced the entire quad lineup down another notch.
Archer0915's Avatar
With the improved IMC that may be another reason.

I also hope my post did not offend anyone about the unlocking. It is just for a while that is just about the only thing people were posting about.
cobra342_'s Avatar
The old downcore chips were chips that had bad core(supposedly), and if X6 is not producing an abbundance of flawed cores then they would have to shut down 2 good cores to fill demmand. Also AMD does not want to undercut their ability to sell the X6s right now.
Psykoikonov's Avatar
The 555BE unlocks got a bit out of control, most of the silicon was good if not all. As Archer also pointed out if it didn't unlock some were RMAing them . l would think it's a combination of the 2, they still have the Deneb at X4 and the unlocking that will in sue just doesn't make sense to release them at the retail level. On top of that it needs to fall in between the 1055T and 965BE's price point, which I've seen they are currently with a couple dollars of each other at certain retailers.
col_sanders's Avatar
I was kinda hoping that it would release. I have no interest in unlocking the cores since 4 cores right now on my 965 is more than enough. Not to mention I am against the core unlocking practice. AMD makes a quality chip and they deserve the money and I kinda see it as a cheat to them. However there are some out there that buy the x2 or x3 without the intent to unlock the cores as their only reason for buying it but decide to unlock it later, thats cool, as long as they dont rma it if it doesnt unlock good. It would have been nice to get a 960t though for the improved IMC and better overclock-ability. I'd imagine it would run cooler too since it fits in the 95W TPD compared to the 965 fitting in at 125TPD for C3 and 140W TPD for C2. Oh well, I may end up doing what was stated in the article and finding a cheep OEM machine equipped with it on the ebay and harvest its chip (hoping they dont do something wild like soldering it to the board). Of course unless getting the x6 proves to be a less expensive route and just turning off cores as un-needed
Archer0915's Avatar
I would love to see what the X4 would do with the improved IMC.
coonmanx's Avatar
I unlocked my Phenom II X2 545 to a quad core after I read about it online. I had already bought the CPU because I thought it was a good chip and not because of the whole unlocking thing. However, the unlocking is just a bonus. As for RMA'ing good dual cores because they don't unlock, I think that is a bunch of crap. I would never do that. Before I even tried unlocking I knew that there was only a 70% chance of success. Don't lump all of the unlockers together. Some of us just got lucky. I didn't have enough money for my build to go quad, but in the end I got one. AMD is actually probably very happy in the end with the whole unlocking thing because they sell a lot of CPUs. If they were really worried about it they would physically cut the die and prevent unlock.
Archer0915's Avatar
I don't think anybody was trying to lump. If I had not needed quads I would have pressed my luck And it really would not have mattered if it unlocked or not.
cobra342_'s Avatar
I built my dad an Athlon X3 build because that was what I thought he needed and fit his budget. But I was able to unlock the fourth core and not only that it is a Deneb core chip I did not try to stabilize the L3 cache, and just left dead. With a little more work He would have the same chip I have only I paid $180 and he paid $87.
I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
If you haven't heard... eteknix has published a correction, not cancelled after all according to them:

Of course, this makes me wonder more about where they are getting their information and if it actually means anything... Could be just a ruse to pump traffic.

Anandtech was provided the same information tho, so perhaps the source is the one with the wires crossed..

EDIT: We'll see...
I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
Ya, everyone was reporting the same story - eteknix is the only one so far to retract that I've seen.

There are risks with being the first to break something - often times you are right, often times you are wrong.
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