Intel quad-core increases pricing pressure on AMD


Chicago (IL) - Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX6700 has officially arrived and already shows a strong impact on the rest of the company's processor line-up in the latest edition of our processor price/performance charts. Average prices for most Intel chips dropped from last week, as did the green team's processors: AMD quickly needs faster CPUs to sustain its position in the higher-end mainstream.

We didn't have to wait long until Intel's Kentsfield processor, now known as the quad-core Core 2 Duo Extreme QX6700, created a reason for a new wave of retail price adjustments for desktop microprocessors. Despite the fact that the CPU has only been a available for a few days and that it is a very limited production product, virtually all other currently sold CPUs saw decreased pricing this week.

Especially noteworthy is the the impact AMD: For several weeks, we have been noticing a trend where the price/performance correlation of Athlon 64 X2 and FX processors has been getting worse, primarily due to the FX processors. The introduction of the QX6700 CPU quite abviously has forced AMD prices back to the relative level they need to be.

The price list from November 17:

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Looking at Intel first, it's quite obvious that, on the whole, prices dropped this week. Since our price/performance feature began a couple months ago, this is by far the most sweeping price decrease we've seen. The only processor that didn't decline in price, oddly enough, was the Pentium D 830, which actually jumped quite substantially, up 20%, or $56, from $287 to $343.

On the very high-end, supply and demand for the quad-core QX6700 appeared to be in a balance, as average pricing went up just $3.00, less than a 0.3% increase from the pre-order pricing we saw last week. While $1170 is still a steep price for a microprocessor and $171 above Intel's tray price of $999, etail pricing is surprisingly reasonable: Buying a quad-core upgrade from a system builder can get more pricey: Looking at Dell's XPS710 system, for example, the quad-core upgrade rings in at $1300 over a base E6300 1.86 GHz processor, at $800 over an identically clocked 2.66 GHz dual-core E6700 CPU and at still $300 over a 2.93 GHz Core 2 Duo Extreme X6800.

Every other processor in our price list saw declines as well, though most of the decreases were only nominal differences in the $1 - $10 range. A couple notable ones are the Pentium D 930, which fell 10% from $187 to $169, a 10% decrease, and the D 840, which went down $24 (5%) from $488 to $464.

What was really to be expected was the drop in average prices for the Core 2 Extreme EX6800. A $44 decrease was seen there on the heels of the QX6700 release. Since the QX6700 is essentially the next step up from the EX6800, we were pretty sure the latter would see some sort of pricing pressure from the new entrant.

Looking at AMD's data a little more closely, the overall trend is a downward slope in price as well, but the first thing we noticed was the huge drop in average price for the FX-60 processor. It was about time for this to happen. We had seen the FX-60 price above the FX-62 for the past couple weeks, and it has been throwing off AMD's price/performance relationship. Even though the FX-62 price also dropped, by 4% to go from $709 to $678 (a $31 decrease), the FX-60 went down much more, by 17%, a $124 drop from last week's $718 to $594 this week. To give this some perspective, the 15 Intel processors with price drops totaled $170, aggregately. The FX-60 almost singlehandedly matched that.

Other notable price shifts occurred on the 4800+ and 4400+. For the former, the average price dropped 17%, just like the FX-60, for a $67 decline from $405 to $338, putting it more in line with the 4600+, which offers about the same performance level, but has historically been significantly cheaper than the 4800+.

The big price jumper for AMD was the 4400+, going up 12% from last week's $249, to $278, a $29 jump. In a mirror opposite from the 4800+/4600+ this week, this caused the price disparity between the closely matched 4200+ and 4400+ to widen a bit.

Overall, an interesting observation this week is that AMD's multimedia mainstream processor (X2 series) lineup tops out at $320. That is good news for the customer, but not necessarily for AMD: The performance superiority of Intel has reached a point in which AMD mainstream processors practically have to surrender the higher-end segment between $400 and $600. The FX series traditionally has been in low-volume production and really doesn't much help here. It is very clear that AMD needs its 4x4 platform, which will offer two FX processors in packages for about $1000 and higher as well as faster mainstream processors: While unconfirmed at this time, sources told us that AMD is preparing 5200+, 5400+, 5600+, 5800+ and 6000+ versions for release during this quarter. Clock speeds will increase from currently 2.6 GHz in the 5000+ model to 3.0 GHz in the 6000+ version.

New FX processors (up to 3.2 GHz in the FX-76 due in Q2 2007) will have to cover the high-end and 4x4 value proposition until the arrival of the first quad-core, which is expected to debut early in Q3 2007 with clock speeds up to 2.9 GHz.