AMD introduced a new CPU and a new motherboard today both aimed at low-end to mainstream desktops, each with different benefits. The new CPU is the dual core 2.5GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4850e. That chip follows AMD's strategy with its similar, slower Athlon 64 X2 BE-series chips, in that they're all 45-watt parts. Standard dual core Athlons run about 89 watts, so by cutting its power drain in half, Athlon 64 X2 4850e makes itself well-suited to small and all-in-one PC designs, and with a higher clock speed than you often find in such systems. The price of the chip is around $89, making it budget-friendly as well.
Potentially more interesting is the motherboard the new CPU rides in on. You'll find AMD's new RS780G chipset in motherboards from the likes of Gigabyte and ECS going for between $70 and $100 or so. The highlight of these boards is their support for Hybrid Crossfire, which we first reported on back in December. The gist of Hybrid Crossfire is that it lets you use the RS780G chipset's integrated Radeon 3200 graphics chip in conjunction with a low-end Radeon 3400-series graphics card in the same system. The strategy takes a page from ATI's higher-end Crossfire and Nvidia's SLI dual-graphics card designs, and the goal of Hybrid Crossfire is to give you playable frame rates in 3D games even on low-end systems.
We actually had the chance to play with a generic, AMD-built RS780G system and a Radeon 3400 card to see the impact of Hybrid Crossfire for ourselves. We ran it through our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark, and you can see from the results that the discrete-plus-integrated combination actually makes a difference.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hybrid Crossfire won't work miracles. The 1,280x1,024 score only goes from totally unplayable to almost totally unplayable in hybrid mode. But at a more forgiving 800x600 resolution, you actually get close to that 60 frames per second holy land. You still shouldn't expect to play the very demanding Crysis on a Hybrid Crossfire PC, and AMD told us itself that a $75 to $150 midrange 3D card will always be a wiser upgrade (Hybrid mode only works with the low-end 3400 series Radeon cards, and only in Vista). But if you only have $50 or so to spend on a 3D card, Hybrid Crossfire could provide you with a nice little boost.
For Nvidia's part, it also announced the similar Hybrid SLI at CES this year, although we have no hardware yet. Also, with the drivers that enabled Hybrid Crossfire, you also get CrossfireX capability, which will let you use three and four ATI 3D cards in tandem on the same system. That hardware is also MIA.