Self-Competition

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Athlon64 socket numbers are starting to look like a phone number.

The Inquirer has confirmation that 939-pin Athlon64s will be dual-channel.

More intriguingly it also shows anticipated production for future quarters.

Basically, there will be only a relative handful of dual-channel CPUs. Over 90% of Athlon 64s will be single-channel socket 754 CPUs. About 1.35 million are expected to be made Q1 2004?

What will you get for your money?

XBit Labs recently did a fairly exhaustive benchmarking

It’s a fairly representative benchmark, and is particularly good in that it compares the new Athlon to what will be its stiffest initial competition: the old Athlon.

These numbers will probably give you a pretty good idea of what a single channel Athlon64 will do in September. True, the flagship chip will probably run at 2GHz rather than 1.8GHz, but it won’t have as much cache, and it will have one single channel.

Factor all that in, and a 2GHz Athlon64 with single channel and 512K cache will probably be just a little faster than the 1.8GHz dual channel 1Mb cache Opteron tested.

True, the new Athlon is spotting the old Athlon a significant number of MHz, about 20%, but this gives us the opportunity to get an idea as to how much that on-board memory controller really helps.

So we looked at the numbers, and gave them a kind of grade:

If the Opteron trailed the Athlon by 15% or more, we said it didn’t help.

If the Opteron trailed the Athlon, but only by 5-10%, we said it helped a little.

If the Opteron managed to stay around even with the Athlon, we said it helped somewhat.

If the Opteron managed to get significant ahead of the Athlon, we said it helped quite a bit, or a lot.

How did the new Athlon do against the old Athlon?

LAME: Not at all.
Winrar: A lot.
Procoder: A little.
Windows Media Encoder: A little.
ScienceMark: Depending on the test, sometimes, somewhat, usually not at all.
MD @ Home: Not at all.
Photoshop: Somewhat.
SPECviewperf: Somewhat.
3DS Max: A little.
Lightwave: A lot to a little.
Cinema 4D: A little.
POV-Ray: Not at all.
Business Winstone: Somewhat.
Content Creation: Somewhat.
Quake: Quite a bit.
Unreal Tournament: Quite a bit.
Serious Sam: Somewhat.
SplinterCell: Somewhat.

This simply is not The Great Equalizer, not even against its ancestor.

That’s no knock against the memory controller. It does very well considering. It’s just not a miracle worker.

This processor needs some serious cranking up, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen at 130nm.

64-bit? Sure, that will help sometimes, but how many x86-64 apps will there be Halloween? Christmas Day? Next summer equinox?

Why Should I Replace My Socket A System?

During the winter months, AMD expects to start seriously crank up production.

However, old Athlons will still constitute most of AMD’s production, so AMD will basically compete against itself during this period among its fans.

It doesn’t look capable of keeping against the PIV on the high end (SSE2 looks pretty weak so far), so it’s hard to see many Intel defections.

How is AMD going to price the newcomer? That’s going to be a critical question, even more so than relative speed.

If you think Athlons are cheap now, imagine what they’ll be six-nine months from now.

The great danger AMD is faced with is pricing the Athlon64s out of its market. If AMD charges $100 for an Athlon64 2800+, that’s one thing. If they charge $200 or $250 for one, that’s quite another.

Even in the OEM market, that will make a big difference. Forget this neck of the woods. AMD people aren’t going to buy this at high prices. In all honesty, it’s going to be hard to get people to replace their socket As with these even if the prices are low. There’s not enough of a performance increase to justify it.

Sorry, but this looks like AMD’s Willamette.

However . . . .

Yesterday, we pointed out that at the moment, Prescott appears to be a case of wattage gone wild.

If Intel doesn’t get this beast under control in the next few months, this could become a major crisis at Intel, and the best thing that ever happened to AMD. This is something to watch.

This 865/875 controversy would only be the start. It’s hard to be quiet while you’re trying to get rid of 100W+ of heat. Perhaps more importantly, it’s hard, perhaps technically, definitely psychologically, to ramp up and literally add fuel to the fire.

If Prescott ends up being renamed “Dustbuster,” and/or Intel finds itself stalled in Speed Wars, these Athlon64s are going to look pretty good in comparison, and people who under normal circumstances wouldn’t give AMD the time of day may give them a real look.

That’s the one thing Hammers ought to have over Athlons, relatively low wattage and thus relatively low cooling requirements. If Intel starts making a racket, that could become a big selling point.

If AMD can sell itself as the “The Quiet CPU Maker,” while Intel is busy trying to avoid meltdown, that might boost sales among real people a whole lot more than “x86-64” or “onboard memory controller.”

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