AMD comes out swinging with 2 quad chips and a triple core

Pushing out new desktop processors, AMD looks to take on rival Intel again

Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which took a lot of heat for falling off its game last year, looks to be back in the fray with today's unveiling of three desktop processors.

AMD announced that it's releasing Phenom X49000 processors for high-end desktop systems, along with the 65-watt quad-core Phenom X4 9100e and the Phenom X3 8000 triple-core processors.

Today's announcements came just a few weeks after AMD released a new graphics chip set that's designed to pair up with the company's new high-end quad-core chips to boost performance for gamers, serious multi-taskers and multimedia users, according to Patrick Moorhead, a spokesman for AMD.

"The CPUs by themselves are good to see, but the most important part is that AMD just came out with their 700-series graphics," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Now you're talking about the ability to have integrated graphics and hybrid graphics. Suddenly, it's attractive again. AMD has got a more competitive and compelling solution now than they've had."

The low-watt chips are coming out at a time when companies and consumers are increasingly looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and heat production. According to Moorhead, all of the quad-core processors on the market today operate at between 90 and 125 watts. The new scalable Phenom X4 9100e comes in well below that, topping off at 65 watts.

"It's like a three-stage light bulb," said Moorhead. "You turn it on, and it's 30 watts and then 60 watts and then 100 watts. With this processor, the highest level is 65 watts, but normally it runs at 25 watts."

McGregor noted that the X4 9100e is the first quad-core processor in the 65-watt range, which should make for an interesting choice for hardware vendors going after the so-called green market. "We've seen HP, Acer and Dell all going after these small form-factor desktops over the past two years," he added. "In business and consumer segments, they make sense. If you can scale down the noise by running it cooler and if you can put it in a smaller package, it makes a nice low-cost, small form-factor desktop."

And coming out with a triple-core processor makes sense for both the company and for consumers looking for multiple cores but holding off on making an investment in four cores -- especially when most software still isn't designed to take advantage of all those cores.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at research firm Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif., explained that a triple-core offering is a smart move for AMD because it allows the company to use any quad-core chips coming off the line with one core not working up to par. Instead of tossing it out and wasting the silicon, they can sell it as a triple-core.

"And this could work for customers," he added. "I think customers don't know how to count cores, so they'll buy based on the responsiveness of the system. If the triple-core pricing falls between dual-core and quad-core, I think customers will say, 'I could spend another $100 and get a quad, or I could get a triple [core] for the price of last year's dual-core.'"

With rival Intel Corp. shipping new processors and adding to its line of 45-nanometer manufactured chips, it's good for AMD to get back into the fray by shipping new chips and even pushing the 65-watt chip out ahead of its scheduled second-quarter ship date, according to Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif.

"It's very interesting," said King. "The fact that they're delivering these products to market, some even earlier than expected, is a good sign. They're meeting their deadlines, which they weren't doing in 2007. These processors make it seem that AMD has a strong set of options for new products and new solutions."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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