AMD’s 2004 Strategy

As we mentioned the other day, AMD appears to have come out with a new placement strategy for its processors.

It’s not a bad one, provided you leave the soon-to-be orphans alone.

Essentially, AMD will make socket 939 their mainstream and better solution, and socket 754 their value solution. While it still looks like one socket too many, putting the two sockets into very different markets is acceptable and should reduce the confusion down to reasonable levels.

There will be two kinds of socket 939s. There will be the “big” FX type model, and there will be Newcastles for the rest of us, a split similiar to Intel’s Extreme Edition versus regular PIVs.

AMD ought to have an easier time making a lot of chips with 512K cache than 1Mb cache and/or sell “big” FXs where only half the cache works right, so prices shouldn’t be too bad for those.

The same split will occur through the transition to 90nm. You’ll have a “big” and a “little” socket 939 chip.

Some seem to think this quite confusing, but it really ought not to be. The expensive chips with 1Mb cache will remain FXs, and the Newcastles will 512K will be the mainstream chip at more reasonable prices.

Distinguishing The Two

A problem AMD faces is that Newcastles are likely to come pretty close in performance to FXs, presuming that the only difference between the two is cache. Extra cache helps, but not all that much.

Will it be enough to justify a much higher price tag?

That depends on what AMD expects from its high-end chip in terms of sales. If they treat what will be the future iterations of the FX like Intel looks upon Extreme Edition, and expect to sell only a relative handful who buy unconscious of price/performance, and will spend hundreds more for an extra handful of percent improvement, no problem. I won’t buy it, you won’t buy it, but that’s OK, it’s not meant for us.

There will only be a problem if AMD decides that the difference in cache isn’t enough of a difference and tries to cripple Newcastle some more. For instance, if socket 939 Newcastles could only handle one memory channel, that would be very bad, as someone else has already noted.

A few of you might say, “but haven’t you said in the past that there should be less choice, Ed?”

Indeed, I did, but what I suggested was one socket, two mobo types (single/dual channel).

At best (presuming that cache is the only difference between Newcastle and FX), AMD is offering two sockets and two mobo types. If AMD somehow cripples a socket 939 Newcastle, you’d end up with two sockets and three mobo types.

The first is acceptable, the second isn’t.

Which will AMD do? You can make a half-decent argument either way. The first would be the smart thing to do. On the other hand, this is a company that didn’t at least publicly think for months ago that it even needed dual-channel memory desktop systems.

P.S. If AMD does do the dumb thingand makes single-channel only socket 939 chips, might be interesting to see if people watching at home can “undo” it.

Widowed With Children…

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