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AMD Announces Dual-Socket, Dual-Core '4x4' Platform
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Advanced Micro Devices is expected to announce a new dual-core, dual-processor platform later Thursday, in an attempt to roll over the competition in the enthusiast computing space.

Dubbed "4x4", the new enthusiast platform will debut at AMD's Technology Day in its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. Two Taiwan ODM system makers will launch 4x4 systems beginning in the second half of 2006, AMD executives said.

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AMD's Technology Day will be geared for financial analysts, as well as the assistant "gurus" who analyze and make sense of the technology, executives said. AMD executives, including Phil Hester, AMD's chief technical officer, will describe the 4x4 initiative in detail and talk about the company's ongoing evolution in the microprocessor microarchitecture space, said Patrick Moorhead, AMD's vice president of marketing.

Moorhead declined to comment directly on a report by RBC Capital Markets analyst Apjit Walia, which postulated that AMD was in a position to merge with or acquire Canadian graphics giant ATI Technologies. "I think that there's a lot to gain coming out with graphics folks," Moorhead said. "We're not a go-at-it alone type company; we're walking hand in hand with more folks."

A key customer "will stand up and affirm that they love our direction," Moorhead said. Publishers of game titles will also offer support, he said.

When asked if Dell would be that customer, Moorhead initially remained silent. Dell acquired Alienware in March as an independent subsidiary, and Alienware former chief executive Nelson Gonzalez explained that his company would have the freedom to choose microprocessors from whatever supplier it wished. Dell's main PC division, however, has never marketed a PC with an AMD processor.

"We would always welcome Dell as a customer," Moorhead said. "I think it's going to be hard to play in the enthusiast space and ignore us."

4X4: the enthusiast market, evolved

According to Moorhead, the company's resurgence in the microprocessor market was built upon offering superior products to enthusiasts. In 2001, the company began preaching the virtues of performance measured in transactions per clock, rather than pure megahertz. In 2003, the Athlon FX offered an "unlocked" version of the microprocessor, returning enthusiasts to the early days of the PC, when users could push CPUs to their limits, Moorhead said.

"We see the enthusiast marketing segment growing ever more sophisticated," Moorhead said. "We need to deliver unique kinds of solutions, different types of solutions."

The 4x4 initiative will be directly targeted at enthusiasts, according to Moorhead. Each socket will include an AMD Athlon64 X2 chip in a new AM2 socket, although what limitations will be placed on the clock speed will not be released until a future date, he said. Each socket will be connected using AMD's "Direct Connect" architecture, which already provides a dedicated channel from each of the CPU cores out to the system memory, and to each other. Due to the nature of the Direct Connect architecture, each CPU can access the other's dedicated memory store.

"Whenever we add sockets, Direct Connect kicks in," Moorhead said. "It's a huge pickup in performance."

The 4x4 board will also tweak the front-side bus speed, according to Moorhead. The 4x4 architecture will use unbuffered, non-ECC DIMMs and AMD's "Pacifica" virtualization technology. "It's not a warmed-over workstation board," he said.

Moorhead also declined to comment on what type of cooling solution the new boards will require. Although AMD launched a line of 35-watt low-power desktop CPUs earlier this month, the company's standard Athlon64 and Athlon64 X2 processors will consume a maximum of 89 watts. "Expect a really unique cooling solution," Moorhead said.

Part of the reason that AMD designed the multi-socket, multi-CPU 4x4 designs was that software manufacturers are starting to add threads, streams of software instructions that can be divvied up and processed separately by the individual CPUs. Games like NCsoft'sCity of Villains and Electronic Arts' Battlefield 2 both use multithreading, and the recent E3 show in Los Angeles indicated that more games would use the technique in the future, Moorhead said.

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