June 14, 2004 3:01 PM PDT

AMD advances its dual-core plans

Advanced Micro Devices plans to release a dual-core processor for desktops in the second half of 2005, stepping up its schedule to better compete with Intel.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has completed the design of a dual-core processor that will be sold as an Opteron chip for the server market and as an Athlon 64 chip for the desktop markets, said Barry Crume, a director in AMD's Opteron division.

The Opteron and Athlon 64 chips will differ in cache size, frequency and the number of input/output links, but the chips' core will functionally be the same. There are three iterations of the dual-core Opteron, code-named Egypt, Italy and Denmark. A single dual-core desktop chip goes by the code name Toledo.

Dual-core processors allow chip designers to ameliorate the growing problem of power consumption, Crume said. A dual-core chip running at a lower frequency can consume less power but provide more performance than a singe chip running at multiple gigahertz.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, software compatibility is not a significant barrier to adoption of dual-core processors, he said. Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 are already "threaded," which means that they can divide up tasks across two processors. A substantial number of server applications are threaded as well.

The practice is far less common with desktop applications, but if the operating system is threaded, a PC can increase its performance, because it can do two things at once.

AMD's first dual-core chips will be made on the 90-nanometer process, which AMD has recently started using.

Double vision
IBM announced the first dual-core processor, the Power 4, in 1999 and began selling the chip in 2001.

Intel published papers on the concept back in 1989, but it began to pour more development efforts into the idea in 2001 and 2002. It subsequently announced plans in 2002 to come out with a dual-core Itanium chip. In 2003, it said it would create a dual-core Xeon processor that will be available in the second half of 2005.

In the summer of 2002, analysts noted that the design of AMD's Opteron could accommodate a second core. Back in 1999, the company said it was looking at dual cores, but pointedly declined to talk about what the analysts said about the early Opteron. The company's plans in this regard only became more definite last year.

In April, AMD Chief Executive Hector Ruiz said AMD would come out with a dual-core Opteron in the second half of 2005. As for desktops, he said dual-core desktop chips were "probably something for consideration" but that AMD did not have any product plans to announce.

Eight days later, Intel unfurled plans to come out with dual-core desktop processors.

Crume denied that Monday's announcement was meant to help AMD keep pace with Intel's stated plans.

Still, Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, said it is significant that AMD has completed its plans. It is unclear that Intel has, he said, so AMD may have a slight lead in terms of design.

 

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