With the release of the Athlon 64 3200+ and Athlon 64 FX-51 processors, AMD has brought 64-bit computing to the desktop environment. 64-bit computing is now no longer the domain of high-end workstation computers and servers that require extreme power and plentiful memory for large database computations and the like.
The Athlon 64 FX-51 is a 64-bit processor capable of supporting 64-bit computing while still being fully compatible with current 32-bit operating systems and software. This is because it is built upon the current x86 micro-architecture, with new features added to it. 64-bit-capable hardware is not likely to make your current applications (which are 32-bit) run more quickly. Instead, it will offer you a path to future applications that will be written in 64-bit code.
We tested the Athlon 64 FX-51 on an ASUS SK8N motherboard, which houses the CPU in a Socket 940 CPU connection. The FX-51 features a clock speed of 2.2GHz and has a 1MB on-board Level 2 memory cache. It also has a 128-bit memory controller and will accommodate only registered DDR SDRAM memory modules up to PC3200 specification in a dual-channel configuration. The memory can be ECC or non-ECC.
AMD believes these features (among others) will make the Athlon 64 FX-51 the best-performing desktop CPU on the market. Judging from our tests, we have no reason to believe otherwise, yet. The FX-51 performed faultlessly, doing particularly well in the Unreal Tournament 2003 tests (refer to the table), where it convincingly beat the best current desktop from the Pentium 4 range.
One vendor already shipping machines based on the FX-51 chip is Plus Corporation, which sent us one of its pre-release machines. Aimed at enthusiast users and the heavy gamers, such machines are also perfect for professionals who do a lot of video editing, rendering and 3D modelling tasks.
Few programs or operating systems currently support 64-bit operation, but there is talk that a 64-bit version of Unreal will be released shortly, and Microsoft is well on the way to developing the 64-bit version of XP. Some Linux distributions, such as SuSE, already support 64-bit operation.
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