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AMD Socket AM2 Review: At a glance
Supplier: AMD
Author: lemonlime
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Date: May 23, 2006
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Today, it is becoming evident that the hardware industry as a whole will be abandoning traditional DDR memory in the not too distant future. AMD's latest revision to the K8 architecture incorporates a new DDR2 memory controller, a new socket design and some other pleasant surprises. Short-Media will be turning another page in the K8's history, and will be taking an in depth look at AMD's new...
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AMD Socket AM2 Review

AMD's Socket AM2 – The Next K8

Introduction

In 2003, AMD announced the launch of their K8 ‘Hammer' architecture that is present in their award winning Opteron and Athlon 64 processors. Hammer was a big step in new directions that really set the Athlon 64 apart from its predecessors and competitors. The 64 bit instruction set known as ‘x86-64' was perhaps one of its most unique features but there were many other enhancements behind the scenes that have proven to make the Athlon 64 a revolutionary processor. The introduction of the on-die memory controller has provided ultra-low memory latency and the HyperTransport bus is arguably the most flexible, best performing data bus in production. There have been quite a few changes to the K8 architecture over the last three years, but the underlying technology has remained fairly similar. One aspect of the K8 that has remained constant over the last three years is the support for varying flavors of DDR memory. Today, it is becoming evident that the hardware industry as a whole will be abandoning traditional DDR memory in the not too distant future. AMD's latest revision to the K8 architecture incorporates a new DDR2 memory controller, a new socket design and some other pleasant surprises. Short-Media will be turning another page in the K8's history, and will be taking an in depth look at AMD's new Socket AM2 platform.

So what exactly do the ‘Revision F' AM2 processors bring to the table in a nutshell?

  • DDR2 support (up to 667MHz all chips) / (up to 800MHz for X2 and FX)
  • Reduced power consumption including a new ‘Energy Efficient' model lineup
  • ‘AMD Virtualization' support (hardware virtualization in-chip)
  • Redesigned 4-bolt heatsink tray

DDR2

When DDR2 SDRAM was released a few years ago, it was received with some very mixed reactions. It certainly looks good on paper, with operating frequencies over double that of the fastest JDEC specified traditional DDR. This huge boost in memory frequency was made possible by many design improvements including a better electrical interface and termination as well as some clever I/O buffer enhancements. Rather than trying to ramp up the memory core frequency only, the I/O frequency was doubled instead. This higher I/O frequency combined with a prefetch of twice the number of bits allows for much greater bandwidth without the need for the entire memory core to operate at a higher frequency. As an added benefit, DDR2 also consumes much less electricity than its DDR predecessor—operating at a mere 1.8V compared to the 2.5V of traditional DDR. Unfortunately, there is a downside to all of the great DDR2 enhancements, and that comes in the form of higher latency. Generally speaking, DDR2 latencies are double that of traditional DDR.

Overall memory performance is generally determined by two variables: bandwidth and latency. If the memory is operating at twice the speed, but doing half the amount of work per cycle (due to increased latency)—is there really a performance benefit? We'll be taking a close look at AM2 DDR2 performance in later sections.

There is an excellent technical overview of DDR2 technologies available at ‘LostCircuits' if you'd like to learn more. You can find it at the following URL: http://www.lostcircuits.com/memory/ddrii/

Reduced Power Consumption

In the drive for cooler, quieter and cheaper computing, low power consumption is of utmost importance. AMD has significantly reduced the power consumption of their entire AM2 lineup compared to their predecessors. AMD's maximum power consumption for dual core processors has dropped from around 110 watts to 89 watts TDP. Single core processors have seen a similar decrease from about 89 down to 67 watts. I can confirm that the core voltage for the X2 5000+ is only 1.3V down from 1.35V in previous X2 models (more on this to come). Overall system power consumption should also be lowered quite considerably due to the use of DDR2 memory. Estimates put DDR2 at about 20-30% more power efficient than traditional DDR.

AMD has also announced the release of an entire lineup of desktop based ‘Energy Efficient' processors, which consume even less power—some models as low as 35W. These processors perform identically to their standard counterparts but are designed to operate at lower voltages. This is the first time a consumer will actually get to make this type of choice in the desktop market. AMD's 90nm lineup was already incredibly energy efficient and this move really reinforces AMD's commitment to the environment and to reducing operating costs for customers. Obviously there will be a price premium to pay for these efficient processors, but again, the consumer can now make the choice.

Being a performance and overclocking enthusiast, I can't help but ponder if these efficient processors will be the next ‘2500+ Mobile Bartons' as far as overclocking headroom is concerned.

Model

TDP (Energy Efficient Version)

TDP (Standard Version)

Athlon 64 X2 4800+

65 Watts

89 Watts

Athlon 64 X2 4600+

65 Watts

89 Watts

Athlon 64 X2 4400+

65 Watts

89 Watts

Athlon 64 X2 4200+

65 Watts

89 Watts

Athlon 64 X2 4000+

65 Watts

89 Watts

Athlon 64 X2 3800+

65 and 35 Watts (two models)

65 Watts

Athlon 64 3500+

35 Watts

65 Watts

Sempron 3400+

35 Watts

65 Watts

Sempron 3200+

35 Watts

65 Watts

Sempron 3000+

35 Watts

65 Watts

Special Note: The third digit of a desktop processor's OPN details the maximum power consumption of that model. “A" denotes "normal" power, "O" denotes a 65 watt Energy Efficient processor and "D" denotes a 35 watt Energy Efficient processor.

I'd also like to give kudos to AMD for their very honest maximum power consumption rating system. The TDP or ‘Thermal Design Power' is very clearly defined and the power dissipation that the average consumer will see should be well below these ratings. AMD rates their TDP value with the processor under the heaviest possible load conditions, in the very worst thermal conditions (at the maximum rated casing temperature—‘tcase max').

AMD Virtualization Technology

AMD's Virtualization technology has been in discussion since about 2004 and was originally code named ‘Pacifica'. It is now available in their entire AM2 line of processors. With the recent boom in the virtualization market, products like VMWare, Virtual Server and Xen are becoming more and more popular. The most complicated component of a virtualization system is the VMM (Virtual Machine Manager) which provides hardware emulation and allows multiple operating systems to access hardware components without interfering with each other. As a result, VMMs are generally very complex and demanding on system resources. From a hardware perspective, the CPU made no distinction between the VMM and any other piece of software running. AMD's virtualization technology incorporates a special privileged mode that the VMM can run in, allowing it to run at a lower hardware level than the operating system and all applications. This separation eliminates a great deal of the emulation complexities involved in running virtual machines, and can greatly improve performance as a result. All of the major players in the virtualization market have indicated that they will be supporting the 'AMD Virtualization' feature set.

Although this may not seem like a very exciting feature to the average home user, developers and some businesses will most certainly be trying to take advantage of this special feature set.

 
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