Although AMD and Intel both plan to launch their six-core desktop processors only in Q2 2010, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a six-core desktop system today if you want to. AMD has been offering Opteron processors with six cores from Istanbul family for about 6 months already. That is why if you find a CPU like that and a single-CPU Socket F mainboard, you will have a six-core platform that may become a great solution for a desktop. This is exactly what we have done today during our test session.
It is another question if building a system like that really makes sense. The existing six-core Opteron processors work at relatively low clock frequencies, and Socket F mainboards only work with inconvenient and not very fast Registered DDR2 memory. Nevertheless, it seems to make certain sense. An Opteron 2435 processor working at only 2.6 GHz turns out to be more attractive in a number of applications than the top Phenom II X4 CPU. Among applications like that I could mention programs for media content creation and processing, CAD and 3D modeling applications, etc., which are well optimized for multi-threading. And it is especially pleasing that Opteron not just outperforms Phenom II X4 965, but is also a more energy-efficient solution.
However, we shouldn’t overestimate the consumer qualities of the six-core AMD CPUs in regards to desktop use. These CPUs are great for resource-hungry applications, but they can’t reveal their entire potential under conventional everyday load or in games. Therefore, processor manufacturers are not hurrying to start offering six-core solutions in the desktop segment.
Nevertheless, there is no so much time left before six-core desktop CPUs will officially hit the streets: Intel Gulftown and AMD Thuban should come out at about the same time – in Q2 2010. I don’t think that the situation in the software market will change dramatically by then. And it means that six-core processors will still be barely niche products. Moreover, Intel Gulftown seems to be somewhat more promising, because it will be manufactured with 32 nm production process, which may allow setting its clock frequencies as high as those of the existing quad-core CPUs. As for AMD, they will manufacture Thuban using the same 45 nm process that they employ for Phenom II CPUs. That is why they may have to resort to aggressive pricing policies to make their solutions look more competitive.
Moreover, we expect AMD Thuban processors to work at about 3.0 GHz. And as we have seen during our today’s test session, it won’t be enough for them to outperform neither competitor’s six-core solutions, nor top quad-core Nehalem based CPUs, which cope perfectly well with heavy multi-threaded load due to Hyper-Threading technology support. Moreover, AMD solutions definitely lack something similar to Turbo Boost that allows multi-core Intel processors to perform very fast when not all the existing cores are busy. In other words, desktop six-core Thuban processors won’t become AMD’s ticket back to the high-performance market segment, but they will definitely have sufficient interesting functionality to become an attractive mainstream offering.