Articles: CPU

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Not so long ago new AMD processors from the Phenom II X4 series seemed to be pretty worthy options for systems in the mainstream price range. However, September brought a few significant changes to the processor market. Intel’s recent launch of the LGA1156 platform featuring pretty high-performance Nehalem processors destroyed AMD’s hopes of getting even with Intel in the $200+ segment. As a result, things got back to their natural course: AMD again had to be just a manufacturer if inexpensive processors for budget systems, like a year ago and two years ago.

However, it doesn’t at all mean that AMD is going to give up all attempts to increase their market share. Especially since AMD has contemporary 45 nm process at their disposal that allows them to manufacture pretty good Phenom II and Athlon II processors. That is why the company is not going to give in so easily and intends to continue their competition against Intel, but in “lower” market segments, where the microprocessor giant hasn’t yet had the time to introduce their new CPUs on Nehalem microarchitecture. Of course, AMD will definitely resort to their favorite tactics – manipulating the prices in such a way that their CPU could offer better price-to-performance ratio than competitor’s solutions. And today we are witnessing another example of this price war: AMD is launching the cheapest 45 nm quad-core processors priced at $100-$120. AMD’s calculations are very simple here: in this price range Intel offers only dual-core processors, while many inexpensive system users are in growing need for multi-core processors. This need is becoming more acute not only because of the growing number of appropriate software applications that can use multi-core CPUs very efficiently, but also because of the upcoming Windows 7 OS launch that will have special optimizations for efficient work in systems with resources for simultaneous processing of several computational threads. In other words, AMD will try to create a sales hit with very modest means that they have at their disposal: 45 nm cores with rapidly going out of date K10 microarchitecture.

At the same time it is important to understand that Phenom II X4 processors that have been offered so far are barely good candidates for the role of low-cost quad-cores. The thing is that the die size of these processors is close to that of Core i7 CPUs. And it means that the production cost of Phenom II is too high for their successful transition into the lower market segment. That is why AMD designed a new semiconductor die codenamed Propus specifically for the low-cost quad-core CPUs. It has pretty predictable differences from the usual Deneb core employed in Phenom II X4 CPUs: the pretty large L3 cache has been completely eliminated, which should allow the company to drop the price point for their quad-core offerings quite significantly. AMD is going to sell these low-cost processors on Propus core within a special lineup called Athlon II X4.

From the conversations with the company representatives we managed to find out that AMD pins great hopes on the new Athlon II X4. Marketing specialists expect this processor to repeat the success of the legendary Core 2 Quad Q6600. It could be the case, but we should remember that previous generation quad-core CPUs, namely Phenom X4 9000, which were also selling at very democratic prices, didn’t create any commotion among the users. But that was a year ago. Now things are different and the new Athlon II X4 are far not the same thing as the old Phenom X4. 45 nm cores make them not as “hot” and allow setting pretty high clock speeds for them. However, doesn’t the elimination of L3 cache cause dramatic performance drop? This is the primary question that we are going to answer in our today’s article.

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