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Dual-Processor Platforms for Consumers

Like AMD Athlon 64 FX or Intel Extreme Edition processors, 2-way platforms for performance enthusiasts were meant to establish a brand-new category, extreme computing platforms for computer enthusiasts with no budget constraints. But it appears that even hardcore performance freaks do not want to pay thousands to obtain cream-of-the-creams of computing.

Advanced Micro Devices first announced its 4x4 platform in April ’06 after realizing that its dual-core AMD Athlon 64 X2 and FX chips would not be able to successfully compete against Intel Corp.’s Core 2 Duo central processing units (CPUs) in performance segment. The company hoped to attract attention of hardcore performance enthusiasts with four microprocessor cores and four Nvidia GeForce graphics processors in quad-SLI mode. But everything went completely wrong almost from the very start.

In July ’06 AMD announced acquisition of ATI Technologies and it became illogical for the firm to promote quad-SLI as a key part of 4x4, meanwhile ATI did not have 4-way CrossFire back then. At some point an AMD public relations representative even said that instead of four Nvidia graphics processors end-users could put four hard disk drives into a 4x4 PC in order to called “four by four”. Then the company simply renamed the platform to Quad FX.

Since the platform used the so-called non-uniform memory architecture (NUMA), memory latencies on Quad FX systems were higher compared to existing single-socket AMD Athlon 64 FX platforms, which reduced overall performance and in certain tasks AMD’s 2-way platform demonstrated lower performance than 1-way one.

Only Asustek Computer committed to release a dual-socket mainboard for enthusiasts based on Nvidia nForce 680a core-logic. Other manufacturers decided not to support the AMD Quad FX due to natural concerns about the demand for the platform.

After the Quad FX finally hit the market, Intel introduced its quad-core Core 2 Quad processor – which consisted of two Core 2 Duo chips on the same piece of substrate – for single-socket mainboards that appeared to be faster than AMD’s 2-socket solution for consumers. As a result, the demand towards rather expensive and unique Quad FX slashed to nearly zero.

AMD’s second attempt – FASN8 (First AMD Silicon Next-gen 8-core) platform – was supposed to feature two quad-core AMD Phenom processors and was set to be released in late 2007, however, the company cancelled it due to limited performance of Phenoms in general and due to TLB-bug discovered in the first-generation chips in particular.

While AMD was basically forced to introduce a 2-way consumer platform in order to stay competitive in the performance segment, Intel Corp. was in a very comfortable market position when it first started to talk about its dual-processor platform for enthusiasts code-named V8 and later renamed into Skulltrail. The platform was meant to deliver absolutely extreme performance with the help of eight CPU cores, however, has not become popular even among performance enthusiasts.

Intel Skulltrail was expensive. Too expensive. Intel D5400XS mainboard designed for the platform cost over $600 and required slow and costly FB-DIMM memory modules. Intel only offered Core 2 Extreme QX9775 processors for Skulltrail and a pair of them cost over $2000 transforming Skulltrail into the most expensive type of systems for gaming.

Back in early 2008 there were no video games to take advantage of eight processing engines, moreover, with the lack of DirectX 11 and Microsoft Windows 7 only one CPU core was used in graphics rendering process, which further reduced advantages that Skulltrail could provide.

With either limited performance, performance limitations set by software and simply extraordinary price, 2-way systems remained rather kinky luxury, but not a popular option for performance enthusiasts. Neither AMD nor Intel are talking about next-generation dual-socket consumer platforms nowadays.

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