AMD is likely to launch an important update to its Athlon-64 processor at the end of May, say sources close to the company. While some Web sites have pinned the date down to 25 May, AMD has a habit of shifting launches at the last minute to accommodate the whims of major customers, or to time the launches with trade shows and other events.
But, according to one well-placed source, 25 May is not a bad guess. "Socket 939 is still on schedule," he said. Publicly, AMD has consistently maintained that it would launch the 939-pin version of its Athlon processor in the second quarter of 2004. Working versions of the 939-pin Athlon were on show at CeBIT last week, indicating that samples are already shipping.
The 939-pin version of the Athlon processor will eventually supplant the mainstream desktop 754-pin Athlon 64. The extra pins in the 939-pin version enable AMD to switch on a second memory controller, which should boost speeds, but should also help cut 64-system costs because of the lower bill of materials that they enable. AMD's high-end Athlon FX chips, with their 940 pins, already have dual memory controllers, but the 939-pin version of the Athlon will have one advantage over these too, says AMD: they will enable significantly cheaper motherboards.
Savings will come, says AMD, from the fact that the 939-pin version of the chip will enable manufacturers to produce four-layer motherboards, which are significantly easier to design and build -- and therefore cheaper -- than the six-layer motherboards required by the 940-pin version.
The 939-pin chips will also address one of the early criticisms of the current FX chips: namely the performance penalty that arises through the use of ECC memory normally reserved for the server market. The new packaging eliminates this, and AMD appears confident of the performance improvements, recently relabelling its 2.2GHz Athlon 64 3400+ as 3500+, despite halving the L2 cache to 512KB with the updated 'Newcastle' mainstream desktop core.