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 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Why is it that just putting the other 2 cores on the same package reduces power consumption so much?

    It doesn't. Core 2 Duo uses less power than Athlon FX-62, so two of them are going to use less than two FX-62 (or whatever) chips. Now, adding the second socket also adds additional voltage regulation circuitry, so the second socket will increase the power load, but I don't think the second socket accounts for more than a 20W power increase, and probably more like 10W.
    Reply
  • Slaimus - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    The odd thing for this platform is that the single CPU is actually really cheap versus comparable products. If only server boards can take these CPUs. Reply
  • Beachboy - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I wonder how many diehard AMD enthusiats will want to split a set of these "quads". Reply
  • mino - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Count me in!

    IMHO enthusiast forums are will be full of guys sharing the CPU purchase... :)
    Reply
  • peternelson - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Very likely eg I would and thought of that, knowing the guys on forums I frequent ;-)

    The other option is just buy two motherboard/systems and put each of the paired cpus into each one.
    Reply
  • rqle - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Best case scenario.
    100% price reduction in mainboard
    Assume these FX cpu perform as well as QCore
    Price it Similar to Performance
    Major Power Reduction
    Assume it a windows error =/ , no clue why you would run server software and e-commerce over softwares/games on this platform

    I still have a very hard time recommended this setup to an enthusiast. Already have a hard time reaching 3.0ghz, it going to have a very hard time going just 10% beyond that. The upper limit of AMD cpu doesn’t impress me right now. Cheapo Intel Core 2, with an overclocker in mind seem to have more potential.
    Reply
  • photoguy99 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I generally agree with your logic -

    But even your best case scenario is impossible because two 90 process CPUs have never come close to the power comsumption of a single 65 process CPU at the same performance.
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Depends. EE X2's are more efficient than C2D's. Even performance wise.

    Not even comparing IDLE C'n'Q and EIST enabled ....
    Reply
  • Anonymous Freak - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Of course they'll sell more FX processors now than before. There was literally nothing to differentiate them before, other than clock speed. That, plus now they'll sell two for every computer built with them.

    But, I have a feeling that the FX processors are going to be even more niche than they were before. Before, it was at least a high end normal processor. Someone could buy a midrange system, and upgrade to an FX later. Now, you have to decide up front that you're going to pay a fortune for the computer. Presently, I have an el-cheapo $99 motherboard that I put my old Pentium 4 in. If I want, I can slap a Quad-Core Core 2 Extreme in there. I can't do that with AMD's setup.

    I'm not an Intel fanboy, either. The only reason I even have the Pentium 4 is because a friend gave it to me free when he upgraded his system. I was perfectly happy with my laptop and my AthlonXP 1700+. But a free 3.8 GHz processor is a free 3.8 GHz processor. I went and bought the cheapest motherboard and memory I could find. Spent about $200, and I can upgrade to quad core anytime I want. (Although I'll probably upgrade from the onboard video to a decent PCI-E card first.)
    Reply
  • photoguy99 - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Of course they'll sell more FX processors now than before

    I don't know man, why would they sell any more?

    To sell more someone would have to buy this "Ford Excursion" of a system. But who is going to buy this?

    What boutique shop is going to even sell it?

    Is there one single person here who is planning to get one?
    Reply

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