Well, It Looks The Same…
Last month, Intel launched its first six-core desktop processor, the prohibitively-expensive Core i7-980X. Later in the month, it took the wraps off of its first four- and six-core 32 nm Xeon 5600-series CPUs. So, small and medium businesses are taken care of, as are wealthy video enthusiasts (the segment most suited to thousand dollar hexa-core processors, in my opinion). But what about everyone else? Is there really a need to push more than four cores to the enthusiast market spending between $200 and $400 on a new processor?
That’s a question I’ll be answering before the end of the month, when AMD officially pulls the covers off of its Phenom II X6 family. In the meantime, though, we have some early information on the upcoming lineup that we’re able to share.
Just as Intel crammed Gulftown into the same thermal envelope as Bloomfield, despite a 50% increase in cores and cache, so too is AMD preserving the upgrade path of Socket AM3 (and Socket AM2+, if you’re still using an older motherboard). There’s a big difference, though. Intel made a transition to 32 nm manufacturing, cutting its die size even as transistor count skyrocketed. AMD is still using its 45 nm node on its six-core offerings.
How exactly is AMD able to shoehorn additional complexity onto a die that doesn’t violate the thermal ceiling of its existing platforms? In short, the company improved its process technology by introducing low-k dielectric material in the metal layers, reducing capacitance. The result is less leakage, less power consumption, and less heat.
A New Platform
Of course, just because the Phenom II X6 will drop into an older AM2+/AM3-based motherboard doesn’t mean that’s the direction AMD is going to recommend enthusiasts go. The company announced its Dragon platform last year, consisting of Phenom II X4, a Radeon HD 4800-series graphics card, and its 790-series chipsets. Well, this year the company is unveiling the Leo platform.
What’ll it take to upgrade you from a legendary beast to an astrological sign of the Zodiac? A six-core Phenom II X6 processor, a motherboard based on an 800-series chipset (the 890GX or the upcoming 890FX), and a Radeon HD 5800-series graphics card. Will there be any reason to upgrade your existing AM3 board just to get land under that Leo umbrella? We remain skeptical.
And while pricing on the new CPUs is still undisclosed, insiders have told us to expect complete Leo platforms to cost roughly what Intel is asking for the Core i7-980X (for what it's worth, etailers have purportedly outed AMD's flagship already, a 3.2 GHz part with a 125W TDP priced under $300). Naturally, we’ll need to weigh performance against those price points to determine exactly what you’d be getting for your money. As mentioned, that’ll happen before the end of the month.