2008 CPU forecast: Quad-cores for everyone!

What's in store for desktop processors this year? Computerworld makes its annual CPU prognostications

Triple-core -- really?

A unique and intriguing addition to AMD's CPU lineup for 2008 is its 8000 series of triple-core processors. The asymmetry of triple-core processing has apparently thrown some Internet pundits off their game: AMD has been subjected to a fair amount of criticism for selling what are essentially quad-core CPUs with one core disabled or unable to function. The reality is that Intel, AMD and all chip manufacturers sell CPUs with dysfunctional or underperforming cores.

These triple-core processors are intriguing because theoretically they offer a price-performance range between dual-core and quad-core CPUs. In January, AMD will release the 2.1-GHz 8400 and 2.3-GHz 8600 chips. In the second quarter of 2008, expect to see faster variants, including the 2.4-GHz Phenom 8700, the 2.3-GHz 8650 and the 2.1-GHz 8450. All of these processors will feature 1.5MB of L2 cache and 2MB of shared L3 cache. Expect clock speeds of these triple-core processors to reach 3.0 GHz by year's end.

It's important to note that, although AMD is currently creating large waves of publicity about the Phenom quad- and triple-core CPUs, the chip manufacturer will not be abandoning its dual-core lineup at the low- and midrange tiers of the market. In fact, it is quite likely that sometime in the second quarter of 2008, AMD will release two dual-core CPUs, model numbers 6050 and 6250. Clock speeds have yet to be confirmed, but each should have 1MB of L2 cache and a 2MB shared L3 cache. It's likely that AMD will release several more dual-core models in Q3 and Q4.

From Peruses to Fusion

One of AMD's big pushes for the first half of 2008 will be a new desktop platform initiative named Peruses. The desktop equivalent of Intel's Centrino notebook platform, Peruses is a combination of a Phenom processor, an ATI graphics adapter and a new AMD chip set.

Unfortunately, it does not appear likely that AMD will achieve a 45nm fabrication process for its CPUs until the very end of 2008 and possibly not until early 2009. This forces the company to cede economic and power consumption efficiencies to Intel for this current generation of processors.

Right now, it appears that AMD is placing a considerable amount of effort and hope in an integrated line of processors known by the code name Fusion. Scheduled for release in 2009, these CPUs will combine CPU and GPU cores onto the same piece of silicon and the same die. This collocation of the central processing and graphics processing chips differs from Intel's architecture in that the CPU and GPU cores are literally integrated at the die level.

AMD hopes this approach will provide increased performance because of faster access to shared memory and other resources. Beyond improved memory allocations and thermal/power efficiencies, which will probably benefit portable computers more than desktop PCs, it is not yet clear what advantages this new design holds.

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George Jones

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