AMD set to release DDR3-capable chips ahead of schedule

A leaked road map suggests the new Phenom II and triple-core processors are coming

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. will soon introduce processors that are capable of supporting DDR3 memory, earlier than the company had anticipated.

The company in the next few weeks will launch new processors targeted at desktops that will include DDR3-capable memory controllers, said John Taylor, an AMD spokesman.

Taylor declined comment on specific processors being launched, though a leaked road map suggests the launch of new Phenom II and triple-core processors.

The support for DDR3 memory comes earlier than anticipated. Late last year, the company said it aimed to add DDR3-capable Phenom II processors by the middle of 2009, but it could push up that release depending on factors including pricing of the memory.

Compared with current DDR2-capable processors, the new DDR3-capable chips will allow information from the memory to be communicated to a CPU faster, which translates to better PC performance. To run DDR3-capable processors, the company will introduce the AM3 socket for motherboards.

"The people who want the latest and greatest will want to use DDR3 memory," Taylor said.

AMD's decision to switch to DDR3 memory is to make CPUs faster so it can effectively compete with Intel Corp. in the high-end PC and server markets, said Dean McCarron, president of Mercury Research, a market analysis firm.

"When we make changes in PC architecture, it is because it's either faster or cheaper," said McCarron. For AMD, the decision was technical rather than financial, but the enhanced competitiveness could yield a financial benefit to AMD in the long run, McCarron said.

Intel's Core i7 processor for gaming systems, launched in November, already supports DDR3 memory. Intel is also adding DDR3 support to chips for portable products like laptops.

However, given AMD's inherent price advantage in comparison with Intel's products, price-sensitive buyers may initially oppose the high prices of DDR3 memory modules, McCarron said. As of early January, a 1GB DDR3 memory module running at 1,333 MHz was priced at $35, versus $12 to $14 per unit for a 1GB DDR2 unit.

"This is completely normal for technology. As the volume ramps, [DDR3 memory prices] will come down," McCarron said.

Motherboard companies such as Asustek Computer Inc. have already announced AM3-compatible motherboards, setting the stage for AMD to launch its new DDR3-capable processors, which could include new Phenom II processors. The new CPUs will include a DDR2- and DDR3-capable memory controller, allowing it to work with older motherboards with DDR2 memory.

AMD earlier this year launched new quad-core Phenom II processors, which the company called its "highest-performing" CPUs to date. Aimed at high-end desktop PCs, the chips ran at speeds of up to 3 GHz and included 8MB of cache.

However, the Phenom II chips are capable of even faster clock speeds under certain circumstances. For example, the processors have been overclocked to run at speeds of up to 6.5 GHz on liquid-cooled systems and up to 4 GHz on air-cooled systems.

AMD remains on track to transition to DDR3 memory support for servers with the Maranello platform in 2010, Taylor said. The Maranello system includes the six-core Sao Paulo and 12-core Magny-Cours chips.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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