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What do you buy? Dual-core, Quad FX or Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX6700?

AMD launches 4x4 platform Quad FX
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If you view Quad FX as a "megatasking" platform or perhaps even as a workstation, the technology is very enticing. Coupled with the Nvidia 680 chipset, you can install up to four graphics cards via SLI and up to 12 SATA hard drives for a theoretical maximum storage capacity of currently 9 TB (12 x 750 MB). Of course, in that case you not only have to deal with quite some cost, but also with significant power consumption. While a typical Quad-FX system will run just fine on a 750 watt power supply, a fully equipped system will easily top that margin and will require a much more capable unit. The overall huge power draw - 250 watts from the processors alone - prompted Tom's Hardware to speculate that a Quad FX system may require special cooling units. A maximum result in performance per watt clearly isn't AMD's goal with Quad FX at this time.

In terms of price, Quad FX looks like a good deal. AMD prices two FX-70 chips at $599, two FX-72s at $799 and two FX-74s at $999. Given the fact that these socket 1207 processors have been in production for some time and demand may be in line with previous FX processors (which in fact means twice the number of actual processors have to be available), there should be ample supply at launch and retail pricing should be close to AMD's tray prices. A second look reveals that Quad FX isn't a cheap quad-core system and, in most cases, may outrun the cost of a Core 2 Extreme QX6700 system. Add to the processors the cost of the motherboard (which is expected to retail between $350 and $400), four memory modules and graphics cards and you are quickly entering stratospheric regions well beyond $5000.

Probably one of the major drawbacks of Quad FX, from an enthusiast point of view, may be the fact that it is a dual-socket platform. While AMD told us that some AMD enthusiasts have been upgrading their systems to dual-socket Opteron systems, such a platform is not suited for all consumer or enthusiast applications. For example, running two processors can create protocol overload in certain application scenarios resulting in less than single dual-core processor performance. Also, two sockets are not supported by every operating system: For example, the upcoming Windows Vista versions Home and Premium only support one socket, while dual-socket support is limited to the Business, Enterprise and Ultimate variants. AMD told us that that Quad FX is geared towards Vista Ultimate computers, which adds another chunk to the bill: Vista Ultimate will retail for $400 as a full version and for $260 as an update.

So, if you are not into megatasking and not willing to shell out a boatload of your hard earned money, is Intel's Kentsfield processor or a dual-core FX system the better universal choice? AMD representatives indicated that, for pure gaming, a Core 2 Extreme QX6700 indeed may be the better choice over a Quad FX system (if it really has to be a quad-core processor). Athlon 64 X2 and single dual-core FX processors address a different market and it remains to be seen what impact Quad FX will have on these chips. According to our most recent price/performance charts, a single FX-62 currently sells in the range of about $700, which, at first look, makes it a bad deal given the fact that one can buy two FX-70s now for about $600.

AMD told us that we shouldn't expect any price cuts for X2 and FX processors for the immediate future. The fact that the special needs of Quad FX systems will make such computers much more expensive than dual-core enthusiast PCs and the circumstance that this new platform is really aimed at a very specific application environment - "megatasking" - justifies that move.

What makes AMD's Quad FX truly exciting is its unique technology approach as well as AMD's vision for it: Running two quad-core processors in one computer could offer a whole new world of processing power - once there is a variety of mainstream software available to support such a platform. Accordingly, Patrick Schmid, who reviewed a Quad FX system for Tom's Hardware, concluded that the platform is "brilliant from a technology standpoint" but that "its time hasn't come yet."

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