Sunnyvale (CA) – In an effort to regain a competitive edge over Intel, AMD today said that it has added a triple-core version of the upcoming Phenom processor to its roadmap.
Preceding the opening of the Intel Developer Forum by one day, AMD made a rather surprising announcement today. The upcoming Phenom 2x (dual-core) and 4x (quad-core) desktop processors will be joined by a 3x model (triple-core) in the first quarter of 2008. AMD said that these new CPUs, code-named Toliman", are expected to be the world’s first PC processors to integrate three computational cores on a single die of silicon.
Of course, the 3x Phenoms do not really have just three cores on a die, but rather four with one core being cut off. The chips are based on the same general layout of the CPU architecture that was introduced with the Barcelona quad-core processor last week and that will surface in the Phenom processors as well. The processor will integrate a DDR2 controller, a Hypertransport 3.0 interface, a crossbar switch, a system request interface and 2 MB L3 cache. Since there are only three cores active, the 3x CPU will only have 3 x 512 kB L2 cache, compared to the 4 x 512 kB of the 4x model.
AMD representatives told us that they hope to address the needs of "a much broader audience" with this CPU, providing "more choice" and "significant performance advantages" over the 2x model in benchmarks such as Sysmark and 3Dmark.
AMD declined to reveal further details about the CPU, such as expected clock speeds, power consumption and pricing – other than its usual claim that it will "price its products competitively." However, it is clear that AMD will be using the 3x Phenoms to create another pricing tier – to take advantage of its quad-core technology in the mainstream, while protecting the pricing levels of the "real" quad-cores by positioning a triple-core in the mainstream market.
Our take: Do three cores make sense?
This was an announcement we did not see coming. Three cores are an interesting thought, but rather unusual, since there are anyway four cores on that CPU and you wonder why they wouldn't use all of them.
When I first talked to AMD about this triple-core Phenom, I thought about the confusion this CPU can create: It's not a high-end part, it will head into the mainstream and imagine an average customer making a purchase decision at a Best Buy store: Which CPU do you take: Dual-core? Triple-core? Quad-core? Plus, AMD said that it will keep the single-core Semprons in its line-up to cover the single-core entry-level segment of the PC market.
While you could be confused how many cores your computing needs are asking for, there is an interesting aspect in AMD's strategy. Consumers have been educated on the benefits of multi-core processors and many PC buyers are beginning to associate more cores with more performance – in that respect, AMD's triple-core processor could turn out to be trump for AMD, if it is positioned right. If priced against Intel's (45 nm) dual-core CPUs, AMD triple cores could be good for a surprise a – and marketing the extra core could be more beneficial than telling your customers that this CPU is made in 45 nm and the other in 65 nm.
It is the unexpected that has made AMD strong and this very well could be a move that could relight AMD's fire and competitiveness in the desktop processor market. I think it is worth a shot for AMD to take the dual-core CPU down into the entry level segment, establish the triple core in the mainstream and position the quad-core above.
Too bad that the desktop market is losing steam and mobile processor are becoming more and more important. So, AMD, what about a similar surprise in the notebook segment?