The Platform

With the recent ATI acquisition under its belt, AMD has started down the path of becoming a platform company. As such it's almost fitting that the most interesting part of today's story isn't the CPUs, but rather the chipset and motherboard that complete Quad FX.

When AMD first talked about Quad FX as 4x4, everyone assumed that we would be looking at a pair of Socket-AM2 CPUs on a desktop motherboard. However as we got closer to launch it quickly became evident that Quad FX would be using Opteron's new Socket-1207 instead. The reason for using Socket-1207 instead of AM2 is simple; in a single socket AM2 system you only need a single Hyper Transport link between the CPU and the chipset, which is provided for in AM2 CPUs. However, with two sockets you need a minimum of two links, one connecting the two sockets and one for the chipset. It's the number of HT links required that forced the 1207-pin socket upon Quad FX. We will get to how this impacts your upgrade path and CPU costs later, but for now just know that Quad FX only works with 1207-pin Athlon 64 FX CPUs (Opterons are prevented from working in the BIOS).

Despite the ATI acquisition, the only Quad FX chipset available at launch is from NVIDIA. Dubbed the nForce 680a, NVIDIA once again gives us a reason to respect its platform group. Although singular in name, the nForce 680a is composed of two 680a SLI chips, each with a x16 and x8 PCIe slot. One of the two chips has an additional 8 PCIe lanes bringing the total up to 56 lanes, more than any other NVIDIA chipset, including the recently released 680i.

The madness doesn't end with the sheer number of PCIe lanes; the 680a also supports a total of four GigE ports, twelve SATA ports and twenty USB 2.0 ports. All of the usual nForce features are present on the 680a, including SLI support, RAID and NVIDIA's networking (FirstPacket and Teaming support). The chipset is a pure beast and we were eager to see an implementation of all of the PCIe, GigE, SATA and USB ports that the 680a supports on the first Quad FX motherboards; unfortunately we were met with disappointment.

AMD's Quad FX platform is launching with a single motherboard partner, ASUS, and a single Quad FX motherboard: the L1N64-SLI WS. The ASUS board features four physical x16 slots (two x16 and two x8), a single x1 PCIe slot and one regular PCI slot.

You also get all twelve SATA ports, but there's only support for ten USB ports and two GigE ports. Obviously the number of people that will complain about not having all twenty USB ports and four GigE ports are limited, but with AMD expecting the L1N64-SLI WS to retail for around $370, we wanted all of the bells and whistles.

We asked AMD when we could expect other Quad FX motherboard designs but at this point it looks like the ASUS solution is it. AMD is working with more motherboard partners but there's no indication if or when additional Quad FX designs will surface.

AMD is guaranteeing a bit of an upgrade path to early adopters of Quad FX by promising that these motherboards will work with AMD's native quad-core CPUs when they are available next year, meaning you'll get support for eight cores in the same platform in less than a year.

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  • VooDooAddict - Saturday, December 02, 2006 - link

    It strikes me as odd that you haven't reviewed a Dual Xeon 5300 system.

    While the motherboards aren't geared toward the enthusiast. It would seem anyone who could really benefit from two Dual core Athlon FXs would get incredibly more bang for the $$ out of a Dual Xeon 5300 system giving them 8 cores on an established and sure to be supported platform.

    I only see two major drawbacks to the Dual Xeon as opposed to 4x4.

    You don't have access to SLI. That's unimportant though as people who want SLI would be better served with an Intel QX6700 on an NVIDIA 680i.

    You need FB-DIMMs. Considering the expense you are already at with any Dual CPU system, and the types of activities you'd need to be doing to get real benefit. ECC probably wouldn't be a bad thing to have.

    I'd love to see a review of a Xeon 5300 System with a 8800GTX.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, December 08, 2006 - link

    To the best of my knowledge ECC memory is usually slower compared to non ECC memory. Also, if I didn't read it here, I read it somewhere else, not only is FB-DIMM memory more expensive, it also does not perform as well compared to standard DDR2 memory.

    I think, for now, if you're wanting the best of both PC/server worlds, you would have to settle for a motherboard similar to Asus' Workstation, or Pro line. However, you would still be stuck with a single CPU, with multiple cores, but you would have SLI, PCI-X, and 2-3 PCI 2.3 slots :) As for memory quantity, anything more than 4 GB on a 32 bit OS is a waste (unless you use the right OS with the equivalent of the /PEA boot option, which I understand can cause some system instabilities)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    As far as I can remember, using multiple CPUs (as in socket, not core), has always shown diminishing returns. In fact, I think I remember reading something to that effect here on this web site (or maybe it was TH?). Regardless, having several Dual CPU boxen around, and have had the chance to play around with a few Quad CPU systems, I've seen this with my own two eyes.

    I did not start reading this article with the belief that AMDs solution would beat an Intel quad setup, but I did have hopes that AMDS system would be at least feasible. The way I see it, from these results, AMD should have never even bothered with this design, and would have better spent their time working on future technology.

    A few more mistakes like this, and pretty soon the only choice we're going to have is Intel, and it doesn't matter which company you buy from. We all should be hoping this never happens. My current system right now, is an AM2 system, and I have to say, I'm a bit miffed at AMD for leaving customers like myself out in the cold, when it comes to performance CPUs. So now, since I spent less than $200 for my current Motherboard / CPU, I think I'll Leave AMD in the dust (before they get the chance to do the same to me), and opt for an Intel system board, and CPU, for my next upgrade.
    Reply
  • stepz - Sunday, December 03, 2006 - link

    quote:

    he way I see it, from these results, AMD should have never even bothered with this design, and would have better spent their time working on future technology.

    To be fair, the engineering effort was close to zero. They sell almost exactly the same stuff as Opterons, only in shinier boxes and surrounded by a lot more nonsense buzzwords. This product is brought to you mainly by the marketing department.
    Reply
  • fitten - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    quote:

    As far as I can remember, using multiple CPUs (as in socket, not core), has always shown diminishing returns.


    Amdahl's Law.
    Reply
  • T Rush - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I'm really not that thrilled to see a brand new Intel CPU barely squeak by a similar config from AMD that is using a CPU architecture that is over 4 years old

    I just gave Anand Lal Shimpi's article a closer inspection, we do see an advantage to the new Intel Core2 Q 65nm Kentsfield, but its not as large as I think it should be compared to the AMD64 90nm K8/Hammer dual cores times two...and however the pricing also doesn't reflect the large advantage you would expect to find with a newer more efficient design: as tested the two FX-74's are priced the same as the Extreme QX6700, and then next we see that two FX-72's under pricing the coming Quad Q6600 by a noticeable amount, and last we don't see a Quad Core2 to compete with the two FX-70's at the lowest $599 for the pair...I would expect the newer tech to not only be a much better performer, but also less expensive as well
    ....but to my surprise Shimpi almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I got to the last page and one of his biggest complaints was the higher price of the competition's motherboard!!!!, this to him seems to be a problem for AMD now, but the Intel systems he has tested before he was willing to overlook....here with this comparison he has a problem with the total system cost(mobo+cpus) being higher do to the motherboard being over one third more expensive as tested; $370(which he later even 'rounds up' to $400) for the AMD vs. $260 for the Intel, looking at $110 difference
    ....oddly with even his own widely revered "Tremendous Value Through Overclocking" that he wrote, where the focus is in fact "Value"(not something that I would think is "as big" of an issue when looking at the highest priced/performing/featured/etc. systems that you could possibly buy today) he completely was not bothered by the fact that he was using a $250 motherboard for the "Value" Intel CPUs at as much as $120 difference more to the $130 AMD board he used where value was a factor in that earlier case ..what!!!
    Reply
  • fitten - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Well... the parts that "barely squeak by" are also running at only 80% of the clock frequency... 2.4GHz Q6600 compared to 3.0GHz AMD FX... and Intel's Core2 architecture seems to have plenty of headroom to go to higher clockspeeds on Intel's whim... 3.6GHz overclocks are pretty common with the Core2Duo parts (and the Quad parts are the same exact cores).

    There's no doubt that the Core2 architecture from Intel is the largest CPU performance bump in a number of years... previous years were almost stagnant as we saw 200MHz to 400MHz clock frequency increases on the same cores as the previous year. Core2 was a performance jump that was similar to the days of the Pentium3 timeframe.
    Reply
  • T Rush - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    was anyone really expecting AMD's "4X4" system using two CPUs built using the 4 or 5 year old K8/Hammer CPU architecture to out-perform Intel's latest release using its newest recent Core2 architecture?...I would hope not
    ...if anything Intel should have been able to pull off a much larger victory in price and performance....where the only clear major advantage that shows the large difference you would expect to see when comparing very new tech to much older was with the power consumption, which I wouldn't think is that great of concern with any system that is running four cores and most likely dual high end video cards(or more) in a "all out" highest performing/benchmarking gaming desktop system
    the over all win does go to the Intel on this dual dual core battle..but personally I would have liked to of seen a much broader margin before putting all my eggs in one basket as many will do
    Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    Thats an incredible amount of power... 450w!! Now that's what I need to keep my room warm this winter :D Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    You can overclock an E6300 even higher on a lot of P965 boards than on the $225 ASUS P5W DH. The motherboard chosen was used for consistency in benchmarking, not because it is the recommended "budget overclocking" motherboard for socket 775. As for QX6700 barely outperforming FX-74, there's a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you can't buy the AMD chips yet, whereas QX6700 is actually available (albeit a bit expensive). Second, the past indicates that 3.0 GHz is pretty clearly to limit of AMD's current chips on 90 nm.

    Meanwhile you have QX6700 systems shipping factory overclocked at 3.33 GHz and beyond. Sure, with that level of overclocking, the power draw might actually begin to be similar between the two platforms. However, a 25% overclock of a Core 2 Quad certainly isn't going to close the margins. And given that these are indigenous platforms we are talking about, overclocking is going to be far more common than not I would say.

    I'm not sure on Q6600 pricing either (since it's not available), though I've heard at least one rumor suggest the price has dropped to around $500. Guess we'll wait and see there as well. Basically, we are see Core 2 Quad beat AMD's latest and greatest in almost every test, without even pushing the clock speed limits. In seven months, we can evaluate again, and maybe AMD will have the lead.

    Basically, we should expect the margin of victory to be slightly lower with a single socket quad core going up against dual socket dual core then it was with Core 2 Duo going up against Athlon X2. The dual sockets give more memory bandwidth, so particularly when running a NUMA aware operating system, things should be pretty close when comparing FX-74 against QX6700. AMD was basically able to close the performance gap somewhat by throwing more power and hardware at the problem, sort of similar to what Intel did with Pentium D. It wasn't a good solution when Intel did it, and it's not a good solution now. It is "OK" at best.
    Reply

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