AMD launches multiprocessor Athlon

Both are geared toward the multiprocessor servers and workstations, where Intel's Xeon processors are king. The first two Athlon MP processors run at 1GHz and 1.2GHz speeds.

The new chip, based on the same core as AMD's new Athlon 4 mobile processor, offers several improvements over current Athlon desktop chips, says Bob Mitton, AMD's division marketing manager for server and workstation products.

The chip has 37.5 million transistors, just 500,000 more than the current Athlon desktop. But within those transistors new features include 3DNow Professional instructions, data pre-fetch capabilities, and Smart MP technology designed to optimise dual-processor performance.

The new 3DNow Professional technology incorporates 52 new instructions into the chip, Mitton says. That means systems using the chip will perform up to 15 per cent better than existing Athlons of comparable clock speed on floating-point intensive computing such as content creation and multimedia encoding, he explains. And that improvement is on any application, not just programs optimised for the Athlon MP, he says.

The Athlon MP's data pre-fetching capability feeds data to the processor before it actually needs it. In theory this helps to minimise data search times, improving system performance and throughput.

Athlon gets smart

Smart MP technology includes a handful of features that take advantage of the dual-processor nature of Athlon MP systems, Mitton says. It includes dual, point-to-point, 266MHz system buses, which means neither CPU has to wait to send instructions over the bus.

The technology also includes a cache coherency protocol called MOESI (Modified Owner Exclusive Shared Invalid) that keeps track of data in CPU caches, identifies when data from one CPU is needed in the other, and reduces memory traffic overall.

Finally Smart MP also includes what AMD calls "snoop buses," which are high-speed inter-processor communication buses for transfers between CPU caches.

Challenging Intel, again

Intel dominates the small server and workstation markets where AMD is targeting its first-ever multiprocessor products. And while more than 50 system manufacturers have agreed to offer Athlon MP-based systems, none of them are top-tier vendors.

That shows the uphill struggle AMD faces, says Nathan Brookwood, analyst with Insight 64. "It's going to take them a while," he says.

But Brookwood is confidant AMD is on the right track, and will eventually challenge Intel the way it has in the mainstream desktop market. And when it does, buyers will benefit the same way, with better technology and improved prices.

"Two years ago this company was selling $US50 processors," he says. "They've come a long way."

Few believed AMD could legitimately challenge Intel on the desktop as it now does, Brookwood points out. "There weren't any major vendors offering Athlon systems at first," he says. Now all but Dell offer Athlon-based PCs, he notes.

However, AMD has only recently enjoyed some success selling Athlons to vendors who serve large corporations. Previously, most buyers of Athlon-based systems were consumers. Servers and workstations have a select audience, he says.

For AMD to get the attention of mainstream vendors, its products must perform well and sell for less than Intel's. If people like the products, and buy from white-box makers in order to get them, the big boys will notice, he says.

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Tom Mainelli

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