AMD, Intel battle for the mainstream - how low can quad-core go?

AMD, Intel battle for the mainstream - how low can quad-core go?

Summary: Two stories about AMD jumped out at me this week. First, market researcher iSuppli reported that Intel had increased its share of the worldwide PC processor market, by revenues, to more than 80 percent--a level it hasn't reach in nearly four years.

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Two stories about AMD jumped out at me this week. First, market researcher iSuppli reported that Intel had increased its share of the worldwide PC processor market, by revenues, to more than 80 percent--a level it hasn't reach in nearly four years. AMD lost share not because it is selling fewer chips, iSuppli said, but because of lower prices. Second, AMD announced the industry's first sub-$100 quad-core processor.

It's not hard to connect the dots. AMD is now firmly in the role of value play for processors. That hasn't always been the case. AMD has introduced many significant innovations over the years that, combined with the occasional misstep by Intel, gave it a competitive advantage. In more recent times, though, the company has struggled to make its acquisition of ATI pay off and its gamble on a native quad-core chip, Barcelona, went bad. AMD has been paying for it ever since, and was eventually forced to spin-off its own fabs, creating GlobalFoundries.

Competing on price isn't necessarily a bad strategy, though. It's pretty clear that buyers are opting for cheaper laptops and desktops, and AMD can deliver a good value by pairing a relatively inexpensive CPU with Radeon graphics that outperforms Intel's finest. This is the "balanced platform" that AMD has been preaching for some time.

The new Athlon II quad-core processors that AMD announced include the 2.60GHz Athlon II X4 620 and 2.80GHz Athlon II X4 630. Newegg is selling the Athlon II X4 620 for $99 and Athlon II X4 630 is priced at $126. AMD first discussed these quad-cores back in June, when it introduced the first Athlon II series chip, the dual-core 3.0GHz Athlon II X2 250. This processor currently sells for around $76.

Despite the Athlon name, the chip actually uses the same basic design as the newer Phenom and Phenom II processors, known as the K10 microarchitecture. The major difference is that the Athlon II, or "Propus" core, does not have shared L3 cache, which means fewer transistors and a smaller chip that is less expensive to manufacture. There are numerous reviews of the chip (some links below), but here's the short version: the Athlon II X4 620 is competitive with the $150 Core 2 Quad 8200--Intel's cheapest quad-core chip--but nowhere near the performance of the recently released 2.66GHz Core i5-750, which is twice the price.

The Athlon II X4 is designed for mainstream desktops, and the platform includes the 785G chipset with Radeon HD 4200 graphics. The combination should deliver more than enough muscle to handle Windows 7, as well as features such as Blu-ray playback and support for ATI's Stream technology, which like Nvidia's CUDA, can speed-up certain tasks such as video encoding when using compatible software.

Given these capabilities, it will be interesting to see just how low computer makers can go with prices of quad-core systems. HP has already announced a business desktop, the HP Compaq 6005 Pro, that will use this platform. The 6005 Pro starts at $563, but it only offers dual-core Athlon IIs or triple- or quad-core Phenom IIs, so we'll need to wait to see where consumer desktops with the quad-core Athlon II end up.

The Athlon II trickled down from AMD's high-end Phenoms. Historically this is how both AMD and Intel have introduced their latest and greatest. But in another sign of just how important mainstream laptops and desktops have become, Intel plans to release its 32nm Westmere technology in mainstream processors first. This week Intel said the new chips--Clarkdale for desktops and Arrandale for laptops--were on track for early 2010 and posted a video with some details on the making of the first 32nm processors. Intel execs will no doubt have a lot more to say on Westmere at next week's Intel Developer Forum.

AMD Athlon II X4 reviews:

Topics: Processors, Hardware, Intel

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10 comments
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  • $126 is way too much to pay for...

    512k L2 cache, even if it is a quad core. At this price, AMD could have given its customer a full 1MB of L2 cache per core and delivered an awesome CPU. If this was done to keep their line up square then it was done for a bad reason.
    bjbrock
  • typo

    ""it hasn?t reach in nearly ""
    it hasn?t reach*ed* in nearly
    vachi
  • I'll wait for a motherboard to equip with a Radeon HD 5200.

    That way, I can Hybrid Crossfire it with AMD Radeon HD
    5450 or 5470 when it comes out.
    Grayson Peddie
    • It is a better value to go with a 56 series card

      when they come out. The hybrid crossfire is a stop gap feature. If you can't afford a better card, this will fill in nicely, but my 2600 Pro is far better than the 3300 hybrid on my ASRock M3A790GHX board would be with a 4450 card.

      As far as power from the CPU, AMD rocks. I have a Phenom II 550 BE. I am running all 4 cores at 3.4 with a stock cooler. I as sure that I will be able to run at least 3.7 with my new air cooler. Tell me what you can get from Intel for $102. that will compete with that.
      mjolnar
      • Well, see here:

        http://forums.overclockersclub.com/?
        showtopic=167511

        I'm trying to do some research on whether a video
        card can be shut down or not, in order to save
        power when not playing 3D games.
        Grayson Peddie
  • Great Value

    My Phenom II X4 940 BE @3.4 GHz is blazing fast (running Debian/KDE 4.3.1) and is much less expensive than the Intel equivalent. AMD is a great value for servers and desktops.

    Tim Patterson
  • RE: AMD, Intel battle for the mainstream - how low can quad-core go?

    I built a HTPC using an AMD Phenom II X4 905e with a Gigabyte 785 chipset board (with side port memory). This combo utilizes the ATI HD4200 on-board graphics. I am shocked at what this setup can do-----it can handle just about anything I throw at it, and all at under 100 Watts! I record and playback HDTV (1080i) and can play Blu-Ray with absolutely no problems. Using a power meter, while the HTPC is simply resting, I am using 39 Watts. While encoding a video it jumps all the way up to 87 Watts. The HTPC can play FarCry 2 at medium settings with no problems. What else do I need? My 1000W main system eats up everything I throw at it also, but costs about $65.00/Mo. to operate approx 10 hours/day. My HTPC is powered on 24/7 and is completely SILENT. Good for AMD/ATI for a job well done.
    warnerpeter
    • No Hybrid Crossfire?

      Far Cry 2? Are you crazy? Heh...

      I love to play PC games at high resolution with
      highest settings without using heavy power
      consumption (150W+)...
      Grayson Peddie
  • RE: AMD, Intel battle for the mainstream - how low can quad-core go?

    interesting
    jbaker.it
  • RE: AMD, Intel battle for the mainstream - how low can quad-core go?

    Nice Article. Good review of AMD Athlon II X4.
    Well see here.
    http://www.justcompareit.com/s~q-AMD-Athlon-II-X4.aspx?ag=3

    AMD Athlon II X4 of 99$.
    Steve
    Steve.bucknor