AMD launches platform for multimedia users

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on Monday is expected to launch the Spider platform, which combines the company's next-generation quad-core processors, graphics cards and chip sets in one platform to deliver better graphics, performance-per-watt and improved high-definition video.

Targeted at gamers and multimedia enthusiasts, desktop PCs with the Spider platform include the quad-core Phenom processors and can hold multiple ATI graphics cards to give users the "ultimate visual experience," according to AMD.

The quad-core Phenom processor, also expected to be launched on Monday, will provide the processing power for the platform, and will be initially available in speeds of 2.2 GHz and 2.3 GHz. Processor speeds will crank up to 2.4 GHz to 2.6 GHz in the first quarter of 2008, said Leslie Sobon, director of product marketing for desktop systems at AMD.

Phenom includes three shared caches to improve memory performance, an improvement from the two caches included in earlier AMD processors.

The chips, manufactured using the 65-nanometer process, have multiple power-efficiency features that set them apart from Intel's latest Penryn processors, Sobon said. A hardware and software platform allows the processor to detect the application running and adjust power consumption accordingly, she said. For example, if a user is playing a game and then switches to running e-mail, the processor automatically adjusts to use less power. The processor also improves energy efficiency during idle time, she said.

The processors also have improved hyperthreading technology for better application performance, Sobon said.

AMD will ship the 2.2-GHz Phenom 9500 and 2.3-GHz 9600 processors for $251 and $283, respectively.

PCs based on the Spider platform will ship with the ATI Radeon HD 3850 and ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards. The graphics cards support Microsoft's DirectX 10.1 specification that enhances overall image quality on PCs. DirectX is the primary interface responsible for rendering multimedia, including game images and video, on Microsoft platforms. It also renders better high-definition video with support for the Unified Video Decoder, which results in better HD DVD and Blu-ray images.

Spider will support CrossfireX technology, which allows up to four graphics cards to work together to enhance graphics performance in a system. That allows scalability in graphics performance and saves users from investing in graphics chips in the future.

Computers with the Spider platform will start shipping on Monday and many vendors, including iBuypower, Falcon Northwest, Cyberpower and Velocity Micro, will offer PCs that use it.

By packaging a CPU and GPU under one platform, PCs will become more affordable for users, Sobon said. Users will be able to purchase components like graphics cards from other vendors, though it may cost a bit more, Sobon said.

Spider is the first fruit of AMD's acquisition of ATI Technologies Inc., Sobon said. After acquiring ATI last year for $5.4 billion, AMD said it would work on a chip code-named Fusion, which integrates a GPU and CPU on a single die. Fusion is expected to be delivered by late 2008 or early 2009.

However, since the acquisition, AMD has struggled, losing market share to Intel Corp. and recording four straight quarterly losses weighed down under costs related to the ATI acquisition.

While Spider doesn't combine a GPU and CPU on a single die, it is an incremental step toward reaching Fusion, said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research.

Both Intel and Via have failed at delivering a combined graphics processor and CPU platform, with Intel killing its Timna project in 2000, and Via failing with its Matthew microprocessor project.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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