Imagine for a moment you're at the decision making table at AMD; you are at least a year away from introducing an updated micro-architecture to refresh your now aging K8 design and your chief competitor just introduced faster and cooler CPUs than anything in your lineup. To make matters worse, this very same competitor enjoys a manufacturing advantage and has also announced that it will begin the transition to quad-core even earlier than originally expected, starting at the end of 2006. The earliest you can even hope to release a quad-core CPU is the middle of 2007. What do you do?

AMD's first move made sense, and that was to dramatically reduce the pricing of its entire lineup to remain competitive. Most computer components are not things you can buy and sell off of emotions alone, and thus something that performs worse must cost less. Through the price drops AMD actually ended up with a fairly attractive dual core lineup, although our similarly aggressive pricing from Intel meant that the most attractive AMD CPUs were the cheapest ones.

But what was AMD to do about the quad-core race? Even though Intel would release its first quad-core CPUs this year, less than 1% of all shipments would feature four cores. It won't be until the end of 2007 before more than 5% of Intel's shipments are quad-core CPUs. But would the loss in mindshare be great enough if Intel already jumped ahead in the race to more cores?

Manufacturing a quad-core Athlon 64 or Opteron on AMD's current 90nm process simply isn't feasible; AMD would end up with a chip that is too big and too hot to sell, not to mention that it would put an even greater strain on AMD's manufacturing which is already running at capacity.

With the 90nm solution being not a very good one, there's always the "wait until 2007" option, which honestly seemed like a very good one to us. We just mentioned that Intel wasn't going to be shipping many of these quad-core CPUs and the majority of users, even enthusiasts who are traditionally early adopters, will stay away from quad-core until 2007 at the earliest to begin with.

Then there's the third option, the one AMD ended up taking; instead of building quad-core on 90nm or waiting until next year, around April/May of 2006 AMD decided that it had a better solution. AMD would compete in the quad-core race by the end of 2006 but with two dual core CPUs running in a desktop motherboard.

Of course dual-core, dual-socket is nothing new, as AMD has been offering that on Opteron platforms for quite a while now. But the difference is that this new platform would be designed for the enthusiast, meaning it would come equipped with a performance tuned (and tweakable) BIOS, tons of USB ports, support for SLI, etc... Most importantly, unlike an Opteron system, this dual socket desktop platform would run using regular unbuffered DDR2 memory.

Back then the platform was called 4x4, and honestly it was about as appealing as a pickup truck. The platform has since matured and thanks to a very impressive chipset from NVIDIA and aggressive pricing from AMD, what's now known as Quad FX may actually have some potential. Today we're here to find out if AMD's first four-core desktop platform is a viable competitor to Intel's Kentsfield, or simply an embarrassing knee-jerk reaction.

The Platform
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Yay for speech recognition!

    indigenous = enthusiast
    we are see = we are seeing
    Scratch a couple "basically" from the last paragraph.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    I though Gary was the "one" with the Texas "Twang" ;) Reply
  • laok - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    The current 4x4 does not look to be a mature system to me. Wait until 65nm 4x4 comes out and hopefully a better chipset will be available at that time. 65W x 2 is reasonable, 130W x2 is kinda too much.

    And I also want to know how 4x4 compares to dual dual-core opteron with the same frequence: performance, power consumption etc.

    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    It's the same chip as the Opteron, with the memory controller changed to work with unbuffered memory. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    The first word of his subject is the best advice: WAIT! Even if the future might get better, does anyone want to spend $1000+ on what may or may not turn out to be the better platform? When the new CPUs are available, then we can evaluate and decide. Of course, once AMD launches their quad core processors, I'm almost certain that our advice will be that most people only need a single socket motherboard and CPU anyway -- if that. Many people still get by a single core CPU, and the number of people that actually need more than dual CPUs is very small, at least in the desktop workspace. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    This is the best AMD can do against Kentsfield? They get stomped on in every benchmark, cost more, and draw nearly twice as much power. No one in their right mind would buy this over a Core2Quad. Whomever came up with this product should be fired.

    The last time I laughed this hard at a CPU/platform launch was when Intel rolled out the P4 dual core CPUs, and at least they came out on time in some of the multimedia benchmarks.

    For the record, my current system is running an Opteron 165, so I ain't no Intel fanboy.
    Reply
  • photoguy99 - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    You're right it's actually embarrasing isn't it?

    If AMD's next-gen architecture improves performance by 30% at same clock, which is huge, they still won't take the lead.

    And it seems Intel is done sitting on their hands, they are working like hell to dominate again by the time K8L ramps up big.

    People hate hearing this but think it's over for AMD.

    And like you, for the record, my current system is an FX-60 so I'm also no Intel fanboy.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    ...came out on top... Reply
  • photoguy99 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Seriously, I'd like to know who is selling them... Reply
  • Furen - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    That such a badly engineered product was rushed out to reviewers just to have a paper launch. Did AMD believe that no one would make a big deal about the power draw? Or maybe it expected no one to even look at power draw. I was actually impressed by what AMD had accomplished with 4x4, after all, the 3.0GHz Quad FX parts were close to the QX6700, until I saw the insane power draw. Two loaded FX-62 systems (whole systems, mind you) draw about the same power as 4x4 does IDLE! Reply

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