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Analysis

A Look At AMD's Socket AM2 Platform
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There are a couple of facts that our analysis make clear:

  • The Socket AM2 generation is certainly not going to outperform comparable Socket 939 (DDR400) processors at DDR2-667 memory speeds-see our benchmarks. This is why AMD decided to wait for DDR2-800 and launch in June.
  • Since the production process is not going to be changed, power consumption and heat dissipation in the mainstream will remain where they are today. We did some basic testing, but as expected the difference was not worth mentioning.
  • AMD is going to introduce low-powered processors for power and noise sensitive environments. The single cores will maintain a 35 W power envelope, while the dual cores won't exceed 65 W. The latter is the mainstream thermal design that Intel intends to introduce with its upcoming Conroe processors in Q3. What we find amazing is that AMD must be able to reach these envelopes using its 90 nm technology, while Intel had to switch to 65 nm in order to maintain this course.
  • Moving the Sempron and Athlon families to a common socket eliminated the need for separate budget and mainstream/performance platforms.
  • The current Socket 754/939 Athlon 64 processors and motherboards usually cannot cope with more than 4 GB of RAM-there are few 2 GB DDR400 DIMMs-although addressing more than 4 GB is technically possible. The Socket AM2 Athlons will be able to use attractively-priced 2 GB DDR2 DIMMs.
  • The changed mounting mechanism for the CPU cooler will annoy enthusiasts who spent a lot of money on a sophisticated, motherboard-mounted solution. However, we expect average Joe to be good to go with the boxed cooler or other 3rd party products that certainly won't be more expensive due to this change.

Conclusion

Things are changing quite a bit. First, we have to say that the AM2 platform we received for this quick preview was as stable as a production system - this probably would not have been the case few years ago. Second, it is interesting to see that AMD is ready to launch AM2, and yet it is still waiting for the right moment. DDR2-800 and higher chip densities are a good justification for delaying the launch to late Q2.

Three years ago, AMD could never have afforded to delay a major technology launch for the sake of waiting for the ideal moment (or to make sure the new chips are available in sufficient quantities). Today, the Athlon 64 processor family is widely considered superior, which puts AMD into a role as leader rather than as a struggling competitor.

The Socket AM2 is a generation change that is becoming increasingly necessary for the sake of supporting memory that will be mainstream in mid-2006 and into 2007. It won't change the performance landscape by much, unless AMD decides to make some fundamental changes to the architecture such as upgrading the FX to 4 MB cache. However, it will also be the basis for the upcoming 65 nm processors that are due at the end of this year. That is when things are going to heat up; the shootout between Intel's Conroe desktop processor and AMD's shrunk Athlons will be as hot as the Gigahertz battle in 2000.

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