AMD woos gamers with 4x4 platform

AMD launched a four-core chip platform for video gamers Thursday, continuing to battle Intel for buzz in the high-end "enthusiast" segment.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) launched a four-core chip platform for video gamers Thursday, continuing to battle Intel for buzz in the high-end "enthusiast" segment.

AMD's "4x4" platform links two dual-core processors and two sockets in a single desktop PC, allowing gamers to take full advantage of multithreaded software, said Patrick Moorhead, vice president of marketing for AMD.

Hard-core gamers use multicore PCs to run an average eight applications at once, toggling between digital content creation and processor-intensive games like Call of Duty or Tony Hawk's American Wasteland.

Increasingly, they prefer games that are written in multithreaded software, able to divide computing tasks into parallel bundles and distribute them to various cores. Content developers like Activision and NCsoft are feeding this trend, with over 20 multithreaded games now in development.

Still, it's a niche market. AMD and Intel continue to pour resources into building fast, expensive chips for the top 2 percent of desktop users, in the hope of capturing buzz that could translate to mainstream sales.

On May 23, AMD launched the Athlon 64 FX-62 dual-core processor, a 90-nanometer, 2.8 GHz processor for the same segment. Specialty PC maker Alienware (now owned by Dell) immediately announced it would use the chip in its Aurora line.

Gamers must pay for the extra speed. Pricing for the new AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 is $US1,031, compared to $US696 for the company's other new top-shelf offering, the Athlon 64 X2 (both priced for quantities of 1,000).

Intel is aiming for those same users with its Core2 Extreme processor, a 65-nm design that runs at 2.93 GHz. Intel plans to boost the chip to 3.2 GHz by the end of 2006.

The extra effort is worthwhile despite the small sales volumes.

"The FX processor costs about $US1,000, but they are glad to pay to be the first on the block to own one as a status symbol, so they can play City of Villains while doing IRC," Moorhead said. "These enthusiasts are adopting new usage models that mainstreamers will adopt in a few years; we learn a lot from them."

AMD could also tap into the larger market of "wannabe enthusiasts," a pool of up to 5 million gamers who don't build their own systems but buy preassembled systems from niche PC vendors like Dell's Alienware and CyberPower.

In fact, Dell launched a new PC for those users on Wednesday. The XPS 700 includes NVIDIA Quad-SLI graphics, AGEIA PhysX physics accelerators and Intel dual-core processors. Dell will sell the XPS 700 as a do-it-yourself kit for $US1,120 or an assembled computer for $US2,310 (neither option includes a monitor or keyboard). Dell also boasted in March that it had sold out of an unspecified number of $US9,930 XPS 600 Renegade systems.

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