AMD's Athlon 64 Has Arrived: the Athlon 64 FX and Athlon 64 (and Intel's P4 Extreme)

Summary: An Uncertain 64 Bit Future For AMD, Continued

A look at the platforms currently available for both of the Athlon 64 CPUs reveals that Nvidia still has a few kinks to iron out with its NForce-3 chipset. For one thing, the HyperTransport AGP tunnel runs at a slowed-down speed and for another, the network chip has a few glitches. Right now the VIA K8T800 chipset provides a better basis and is available for both Socket 754 (Athlon 64) as well as for Socket 940 (Athlon 64 FX-51). Users need not worry : both chipsets are included in our comprehensive benchmark charts. One off-putting aspect of the Athlon 64 FX-51 is the absolute necessity of using pricey and rare special memory (DDR400 registered). AMD or the mainboard manufacturer could offer a decent bundle here. Corsair and Kingston offer such modules.

Technically, the same goes for the two Athlon 64s as for the Opteron : AMD didn’t go to any great efforts to integrate the 64 bit expansion into its existing x86 concept. The Hammer architecture doesn’t offer any real changes in core design or instruction handling under 32 bit compared with the old Athlon Barton core. Rather, the optimization is geared for higher clock speeds of 2.4 GHz and more. The 12-step pipeline combined with SOI technology creates potential for higher frequencies. Look out for the Athlon 64 FX-53 with a 2.4 GHz clock speed.

The combination of the dual L2 cache and integrated memory controller raises performance in many applications enormously. The progressive Hammer architecture can only display to the full its advantages over Intel’s Netburst in dual, or better, quad CPU operation. Looking ahead : The Athlon 64 FX-53 works at 2.4 GHz. The record holder in heat loss is currently the P4 Extreme with almost 94 watts, while the Athlon 64 FX-51 heats up the surroundings with 89 watts.

A brief word on transistor numbers : due to the 2 MB L3 cache there is an increase on the P4 EE to 178 million - 105.9 million on the Athlon 64. For PC seniors : The Intel Pentium 100 from 1994 had 3.3 million transistors and heat loss of about 12 watts.

A few reflections on pure 64 bit operation : No one currently needs this extension for pure office applications. AMD would have been better advised to go for a hardcore 3D gaming bundle in its targeted marketing. The cult game Doom III (or Half Life II) for 64 bits, with the corresponding speed advantages, now that would have been some advertisement. Dyed-in-the-wool game freaks would have invested sums of 2,500 euros and more in a new computer to experience this pleasure. Merely looking to the installed hardware foundation, on the other hand, brings no benefits. The software has to be completely readjusted to achieve speed advantages in applications running under Windows XP 64. Whether the manufacturer will do this any time soon is rather doubtful.

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