Wednesday, December 13, 2006

AMD Leaps Over Intel

I wrote recently about Intel's attempt to leapfrog AMD by selling a quad-core microprocessor well before one became available from AMD. I explained that the Intel processor did not really have four cores on one chip. Rather it has two dual-core chips mounted into one pin package. Despite some other shortcomings the Intel chip packs a lot of computer power into one package.

Now it appears AMD has leapfrogged Intel, and only a few weeks later. According to Tom Yager, Infoworld's chief technologist at its test center, he has been given a pre-release AMD Quad FX (aka four by four). To get four cores on a board it has two sockets each accepting a dual core chip.
What is the difference? It is all about architecture and the future road map.

As usual the Intel processors need a separate chip for memory management. For years AMD has had its memory management on its processor chips, a considerable advantage. Why did Intel not just fit a memory manager onto its chips? Because of other inefficiencies in the Intel design they don't have the real estate available on the chip.

The AMD four by four chips have two complete CPUs on the chip, with independent level 2 cache, independent memory controllers, and independent buses. This makes the chips much more scalable than Intel's and better able to handle multiple programs running simultaneously.

Also, the current socket AMD is using allows for upgrades to true, single-chip quad-core processors that are due out in mid 2007. So in a few months if you have the bucks and need the high-end experience (say you are a 3-D graphic designer, or just like to watch video while you run your stock market or engineering applications) you can be running eight highly efficient cores all at once. This will work particularly well with Windows Vista.

Certainly with its tremendous marketing muscle and army of talented engineers, Intel will be unleashing its own dream processors as time goes by. But for performance, for bang to the buck, and for power savings, AMD is now the safe bet.

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