SAN JOSE, Calif. In their race to deliver more powerful multi-core computer processors, Advanced Micro Devices and Intel Corp. may have outrun one of the biggest slices of their market—the mainstream desktop PC. In a sign of the times, AMD announced Monday (Sept.17). it will ship before April a three-core version of the quad-core Phenom desktop processor that the company plans to launch before the end of the year.
The news comes on the heels of AMD's biggest event of the year, the Sept. 10 launch of Barcelona, the first x86 device to put four cores on a single die. AMD aimed to use its native quad-core design to beat in the server market Intel Corp. which in the past year has rolled out a family of quad-core CPUs using multiple die in a package. The Phenom is geared to combat Intel in the same way in desktops
The plan for a three-core Phenom demonstrates how far mainstream desktop software lags behind the manufacturing capabilities of chip makers. "The vast majority of desktop applications are optimized for dual threading today," said Leslie Sobon, director of product and brand management in AMD's desktop group.
AMD is positioning its three-core chip at mainstream users who do a lot of multi-tasking with typical desktop productivity applications. Sobon said such users could see performance gains ranging from 20 to 40 percent over dual-core chips, depending on the application.
"The Excel spreadsheet, for example, is heavily multi-threaded so you will see a bigger performance uplift running it," said Sobon. "But there are some productivity apps that get most of their uplift at the dual- or triple-core level," she added.
AMD will aim its quad-core part at enthusiasts such as gamers and professional media developers. The Phenom and Barcelona chips are made in AMD's latest 65nm process technology.
The triple-core Phenom will have up to 2 Mbytes of shared L3 cache and use the HyperTransport 3.0 bus. The company is not yet providing frequency, cost or power consumption data on the Phenom chips
Sobon said the idea for the three-core chip came out of research with end users, including a study of the likely slow adoption rate of quad-core chips in desktop systems. AMD has planned the chip for some time but kept it in stealth mode to keep a competitive advantage, she said.
At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, Intel is expected to roll out details about a wide range processors made in its upcoming 45nm process technology it has in the works for desktops, notebooks and servers.