AM2: AMD Reinvents Itself

The AMD Generation Comes Of Age

Enthusiasts have been on the edge of their seats for weeks waiting for AMD's new platform, ultimately christened "AM2". Speculation and theories have run rampant, and now everything's new. In addition to the processor itself, the socket, heatsink, chipset and memory have all been overhauled. In the wake of Socket 940, Socket 939 and 754, Socket AM2 is the fourth generation of the Hammer architecture, which made its market debut in 2002. AMD wasn't always this quick to change platforms - arch-rival Intel, often slammed for its frequent changes, made just two in the same time period.

There's a great variety of processors now available for Socket AM2: a total of 17 CPUs fill the very generous portfolio for the separate market segments turned out by Dresden's new Fab 36. Production is still based on the 90 nm process but is now on 300 mm wafers. Plans are afoot to introduce 65 nm by the end of the year.

So, what'll it be? A standard Athlon 64 X2, a Sempron for budget-constrained students, or the exclusive, noble and fine mystique of the Athlon 64 FX-62? Prices start at just under $70 for the Sempron 64 2800+, and range up to the Athlon 64 FX-62 for $1,200. The midrange for these processors is between $300 and $600. This pricing structure makes one thing fairly clear: the AMD generation has come of age, and pricewise, is on the same level as Intel. The previous pricing edge of up to 30 percent on AMD's part has completely evaporated. More than anything, it raises the question of who is now the performance-oriented public's favorite among the most powerful processor makers? It should be clear that, for the moment at least, it's the top model of the Athlon FX series. Since the appearance of the first Athlon 64 FX, AMD has taken the lead, with Intel's Pentium Extreme Edition hot on its heels.

With the exception of the revamped memory interface, however, nothing has changed in the technical department. A new addition to the elite class is the top model, the Athlon 64 FX-62, now clocked at 2.8 GHz and featuring two CPU cores; the Athlon 64 X2 5000+ and Athlon 64 4000+ also join the field. The maximum clock speed now appears finally to be hitting its limits, as our lab measurements show.

A topic being given increasing airtime is energy efficiency, a measure that indicates the maximum computing power provided per unit of energy consumed. In this discipline AMD has long held the lead, and it is now adding to it. In addition to the "normal" processors, there are special energy-saving models from Athlon and Sempron, both with the "EE" suffix. Saving energy costs money, though: the EE processors are more costly.

In principle, the switch from Socket 939 to AM2 was not necessary at all. The change was only implemented to prevent mix-ups, in a way similar to using different household plugs for 115 and 230 V electrical service. The chipsets are still not from AMD, but rather suppliers like ATI, Nvidia, SiS and VIA. Nvidia's Nforce 5 chipset is ahead by a nose, offering advanced technology that in many respects cannot even be matched by Intel.

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