How AMD stumbled with Socket AM2

Summary:When AMD released the Socket AM2 platform during May of this year, many expected it to be a huge hit - after all, it supported DDR2, sporting a 30% increase memory bandwidth, and introduced new features such as hardware virtualization. The Socket AM2 platform took what AMD had learned from the Socket 939 platform and built upon it.Now, four months on from launch, and the AM2 platform has been largely sidelined and the Socket 939 platform still dominates mainstream AMD PCs. Why? Where did AMD go wrong with AM2?

AMD logo
When AMD released the Socket AM2 platform during May of this year, many expected it to be a huge hit - after all, it supported DDR2, sporting a 30% increase memory bandwidth, and introduced new features such as hardware virtualization.  The Socket AM2 platform took what AMD had learned from the Socket 939 platform and built upon it.

Now, four months on from launch, and the AM2 platform has been largely sidelined and the Socket 939 platform still dominates mainstream AMD PCs.  Why?  Where did AMD go wrong with AM2?

Modest performance gains

The biggest problem with the AM2 platform is not that it isn't powerful, but that it doesn't offer the huge boost in performance that users saw when they moved to the K8 platform.  If you made the shift to AM2 then you could be lucky to see a performance boost of, say 10% over an equivalent Socket 939 CPU, but if you were unlucky you might get no more than about 3%. 

If you're neither blessed nor cursed, you'd probably see a performance gain of about 5%.  Problem is, 5% can only be called a modest performance boost at best and it's certainly nothing to write home about.

Put simply, the Socket 939 platform was just too darn good for its time.

Cost

Athlon 64 X2 AM2
You might be able to sell a modest boost in performance to the consumer if the price is right.  Unfortunately, AMD hasn't been able to pitch the AM2 at a price point that matches the minimal performance gains it offers.  Basically, while consumers can get their hands on a Socket 939 that is only a fraction less powerful for less money, economics are against the AM2.

PC buyers don't worry about the future

There's no doubt that taking the AM2 route means you are, to a certain extent, future-proofing your PC.  But the truth of the matter is few consumers worry about what the future holds for their PC.  They buy it and use it until it gets old or broken then they unplug the power cable, landfill the PC and replace it with a new one. 

What's the point in paying a premium for a more future-proof platform when it's not going to be upgraded?  Just because you can fit an AM3 CPU into an AM2 socket doesn't mean the masses will bother.  I'm not saying it's not a good idea, just that it's a tough sell.

"AM2" confused the consumer

Socket AM2
Tell the consumer what they want or need and they'll whip out their wallets or purses and buy (well, that's the idea anyway) but give them a choice between two things that are hard to distinguish and you introduce a third choice - that they should buy something else.  For most buyers the difference between Socket 939393 and Socket AM2 was just a name.  Trying to explain the technology sends them into a coma, and trying to make a 5% performance boost sound significant is just hyperbole.

Get beyond the name and next they noticed that AMD were selling CPUs with the same name (for example, Athlon 3800). 

All this automatically introduced the third (and fourth) choice to the customer - buy cheap (Socket 939) or buy Intel.

Core 2 Duo/Conroe

Conroe/Core 2 Duo
One thing that made the Socket 939 look so good was how bad Intel's Netburst architecture was.  However, as AMD were launching the AM2, Intel was releasing information about their Conroe platform.  Not only that, but Intel also made sure a few Conroe engineering samples fell into the right hands, and pretty soon it was clear that Conroe wasn't just a little bit better than the AM2, Conroe left it choking in it's dust.  The message was clear - if you want power and the freedom to overclock, the Core 2 Duo was the platform to go for.

This meant the AM2 platform was trapped between the cheaper Socket 939 and the far more powerful Core 2 Duo.

AM2 is the future

Despite the lukewarm reception the AM2 platform has had, it still represents the future for AMD.  From this platform will spawn the AM3, the K8L, and 4x4.

Things are far from over in the CPU arms race.

Topics: Processors

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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