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New Phenom triple-core processor coming in 2008

AMD today updated its roadmap with another multi-core processor, to slot between its dual and quad-core processors – Phenom triple-core processors. The new Phenom triple-core processors feature three processing cores on a single die and based on AMD’s Barcelona architecture, which launched last week in Opteron form.

The new triple-core processors will feature similar specifications as its upcoming Phenom X2 and X4 brethren. The Socket AM2+ processors feature 512KB of L2 cache for each core and a shared pool of L3 cache. Essentially, the Phenom triple-core processors are quad-core variants with one core disabled. This allows AMD to simply disable one core on quad-core dies for maximum use of a single wafer.

AMD claims to be the only company to offer tri-core processors, which the company claims to bring “true multi-core technology to a broader audience.” AMD has not given the Phenom triple-core processors an official name yet. However, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the tri-core processors followed the current Phenon naming scheme and received the Phenom X3 name.

“With our advanced multi-core architecture, AMD is in a unique position to enable a wider range of premium desktop solutions, providing a smarter choice for customers and end users,” said Greg White, vice president and general manager, Desktop Division, AMD. “As a customer-centric company, AMD is committed to working with our OEMs to deliver compelling value propositions across their multi-core product families with capabilities that address their requirements and aspirations.”

Features unique to AMD’s Barcelona and Stars architectures such as split power planes and dynamic independent core speed adjustments remain supported on triple-core processors. Additionally, AMD Phenom triple-core processors support HyperTransport 3.0 for up to 16GB/second of I/O bandwidth.

AMD claims significant performance gains over dual-core processors with its triple-core processors in benchmarks such as SYSmark 2007 and 3DMark06, where gaming and digital content creation performance is key.

“A continued commitment to elegant design and innovative processor architecture is instrumental to revolutionizing the technology industry,” said Richard Shim, research manager for IDC's Personal Computing program. “The advent of triple-core processors is a valuable market opportunity for customers to deliver end users compelling solutions and further differentiate on the desktop.”

Expect AMD to launch its Phenom triple-core processors in Q1 2008. AMD plans to launch its quad-core Phenom X4 next quarter.

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What market segment is this aimed at?
By jak3676 on 9/17/2007 11:22:55 PM , Rating: 4
This seems to be a really odd marketing move.

Performance wise, there is still limited use for mainstream multi-core CPU's. We are starting to see some good mult-threaded apps, but its still a minority of support. Just about everyone will see a boost in moving to a dual core CPU, as this allows one core to focus on a single main thead (games, video editing, etc) while the other core handles all the background tasks, but many users may not even notice the difference from a single vs dual-core CPU. For this mainstream market there is little use for any more than 2 cores.

For the performance crowd (and I think there are a growing number of us), the tri-core system (gee that sounds like a Zelda reference) will probably not gain any huge following unless AMD prices them signifigantly cheaper than the quad-core CPU's. It will cost AMD the same amount to manufacture a tri-core CPU as a quad-core CPU so it seems like AMD will loose potential revenue with every tri-core CPU sold.

The only way I see this making scense is if AMD is having some production issues where some quad-core CPU's develop a glitch that only yields three functioning cores. Intel did have some similar issues with their original core CPU's. But if this is the case I'm guessing you won't see many of the tri-core CPU's being implemented.

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By jak3676 on 9/17/2007 11:35:43 PM , Rating: 2
Added thoughts

Disabling one core won't save you much in terms of wattage on AMD's current architecture. All of the cores run at the same voltage, although they can clock themselves lower for some saved wattage. At first I was thinking that this may allow you to cut the TDP to 3/4 of the original quad-core, but I'm guessing it would be more like 7/8 or 9/10 of the original TDP.

I don't see this being an added benifit for overclocking either. With the majority of your chip still running at full power, you'd end up with some odd heating patterns, but probably only very limited advantage in terms of overclocking. You may be able to squeeze a few more MHz out of it, but I think the dual-core versions will probably prove better for O/C than the tri's. We'll definately have to wait for some tests on this point.

The only advantage I can see would be that you end up with more efefctive L3 cache per core (same amount, just shared between fewer cores). I kinda doubt that there will be programs to take advantage of this, but it may have some use in programs that need to share large amounts of data in between cores. I think I'm reaching too far on this idea - maybe I'm just not seeing it.

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By sackland on 9/17/2007 11:53:56 PM , Rating: 2
Key wording here being "current architecture", if these CPUs were used on one of the new motherboards with split power planes I bet you would see a power improvement over quad core. In addition if they can do like the GPU guys already do and have fusible logic, they could fully disable a core at packaging and keep it from using power.

(nVidia and ATI can sometimes fuse or turn off unusable shaders and sections of the cores which is how we sometimes end up with lower SKUs of the products with lesser power and performance yet same clocks)

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By jak3676 on 9/18/2007 12:23:50 AM , Rating: 2
in terms of "current architecture", the split power plane is only a split between the memory controller and the cores - it is not a split between the cores.

from Anand Tech's article

AMD has made numerous improvements compared to the K8 core:
The FPU unit can be turned off when not needed
Clock gating is implemented much better
Each core can run at its own frequency (but the voltage is the highest needed by either core)
Power for the core and memory controller are split

I do agree that there would be some power savings here, but we're not talking about disabling 1/4 of the chip. With ~ 460 million transistors for the entire CPU, the number of non-cache transistors in the Barcelona core is ~250 million total or ~62 million per core. So disabling one core cuts out just over 13% of the total transistors.

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By jak3676 on 9/18/2007 2:06:44 PM , Rating: 4
I don't really mind getting rated up or down for my usual rambling - but can someone explain why this post got rated down? This is straigt fact and numbers. If I quoted a number wrong, please let us all know.

By deeznuts on 9/18/2007 11:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
Fanboys, just ignore it. They sometimes act irrationally, so asking or thinking about it rationally isn't going to get you anywhere.

By mars777 on 9/19/2007 3:23:16 PM , Rating: 3
Maybe because individual cores can already save power and clock by themselves with cool&quiet.
This is only made to clock differently the IMC thus saving power when it's not 100% loaded with memory requests.

By jak3676 on 9/17/2007 11:57:31 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that it doesn't necessarily have to be a matter of having a core that won't work at all. If one of them won't clock as high as the other three it may make more sense to just disable it.

i.e. 3 cores are stable at 2.5GHz, but one of the cores isn't stable past 2.0GHz - so do you sell it as a 2.5GHz tri-core CPU or a 2.0GHz quad-core?

I would thik that AMD would be more interested in fixing the root level manufactuing problem though.

Another way to think about it, may be that AMD has been able to boost the clock speed across the CPU, but only by cutting power to one of the cores. (in other words there is not a problem with any of the cores, but if you disable any one of them, then you can clock the rest of the CPU higher.) If this is the case though it would seem to suggest that there is an archetectual problem with heat dissipation though.

By praeses on 9/18/2007 12:53:13 PM , Rating: 2
As jak3676 said:
you end up with more effective L3 cache per core (same amount, just shared between fewer cores)

(corrected typo)

If this is marketted correctly this could be quite significant for price/performance. Approach wise, its not much different than the Radeon 9500 of yesteryear although we probably are not going to be able to re-enable the core on select cpus. I do not recall many people complaining about the 9500 even if they weren't planning on unlocking those pipelines.

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By Treckin on 9/17/2007 11:36:43 PM , Rating: 4
The tri-core I would guess is simply an attempt to avoid a 'core war'...

If AMD suddenly offered two Barcelona dies on one chip, people would bash them. If they offer only 3 cores in one die, people bash them.

If they offer the first x86 quad core, people bash them...

I think I just died a little on the inside...

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By afkrotch on 9/18/07, Rating: 0
RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By shiznit on 9/18/2007 2:26:50 AM , Rating: 3
you are correct in saying the intel offered the first x86 quad core, but Yorkfield is NOT native. It is 45nm but still 2 dies like the current quads.

By retrospooty on 9/18/2007 10:23:29 AM , Rating: 2
Yup... Nahalem, in late 2008 will be Intel's first native Quad.

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By z3R0C00L on 9/18/2007 11:57:44 AM , Rating: 2
And this matters because......?????!!!!!

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By Alpha4 on 9/18/2007 2:14:32 PM , Rating: 2
He was just correcting AFKrotch.

RE: What market segment is this aimed at?
By deeznuts on 9/18/2007 11:10:46 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't say correcting AFKrotch, but clarifying.

The two-die approach Intel has taken has not been proven, on the consumer desktop side, to be a hinderance.

By mars777 on 9/19/2007 3:32:42 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I'm wondering too... why hasn't AMD offered processors with two dies in one package.

For Example:

They will use Barcelonas with one core damaged for X3 Phenoms...

And they should use Barcelonas with 2 damaged cores for X6 barcelonas with two dies in one package!

With the current state of TDP they could manage it staying in a reasonable watt limit. With a six core processor they could rise up their share price, no matter how it performs, because it has 6 "threads".

By Targon on 9/18/2007 6:30:53 AM , Rating: 2
With Vista doing a bit more behind the scenes, dual-core is already seen as very important, if not essential. Now, with this in mind, adding just one more core over the current dual-core processors MAY help a lot of end-users in terms of overall system performance, even if current single-threaded applications see no significant improvement.

In addition to this, as multi-threaded applications finally begin to show up in the next year or two, having the extra core will give a bit of a boost without having to pay a price premium for a quad core processor.

So, the market segment this is aimed at is for those who would be talked into getting a quad-core system but looking at the price, would want something a little cheaper.

It may also be that AMD has found that their fab process has a good number of processors that have failed due to one bad core, and this would be a way to sell the "defective" processors. There really is no way to know at this point if this is the case or not(if the three-core fade from the roadmap quickly, we can speculate that it was fab problems that inspired this).

By encryptkeeper on 9/18/2007 9:37:25 AM , Rating: 4
It will cost AMD the same amount to manufacture a tri-core CPU as a quad-core CPU so it seems like AMD will loose potential revenue with every tri-core CPU sold.

Sure it costs the same thing to manufacture a triple core as it does a quad core. But selling those triple cores is better than throwing them away.

When cores are manufactured, they are placed into CPU packages depending on several variables, like processor supply and demand, cost, and most importantly, which CPU's pass certain QC tests. Take Intel for example. The core from a Celeron 400 series and a C2D extreme are manufactured the same way, but the core that eventually became a Celeron only passed very few of the QC tests and the core that became an Extreme passed several high stress QC tests. That's basically what it means when you see "such and such processor with this much cache disabled". Why throw the chips away if they can still be used, even if it's not at their top efficiency. That's why Intel pushed themselves to get rid of single core P4s, 800 and 900 series processors and 300 series Celerons. Their fab process is way more efficient now that they basically manufacture the same chips over and over.

If bench tests are good for the tri-cores, you'll probably see Intel put them out too.

By jay2o01 on 9/18/2007 10:23:02 AM , Rating: 3
This is a well aimed move for AMD. After initial barcelona numbers surfaced it was clear AMD couldn't compete clock for clock. Think for a second how throwing another core in the mix (hopefully at similar prices to the dual core) will change this picture significantly.

Its also a smart move going forward, especially as they begin to think about making octal cores. Yields at the 45nm node will probably not be good for AMD, 5,6,7 core AMD chips coming in 2h

By imperator3733 on 9/18/2007 11:10:25 AM , Rating: 3
It will cost AMD the same amount to manufacture a tri-core CPU as a quad-core CPU so it seems like AMD will loose potential revenue with every tri-core CPU sold.

It seems to me that these tri-cores would be quad-cores that have one deffective core. For chips like that, AMD has two choices.

1) Disable the deffective core and one other core and sell it as a pseudo-Kuma dual core at the dual core price


2) Disable only the deffective core and sell it as a tri-core at a price somewhere between similarly clocked dual and quad cores.

By releasing tri-cores, AMD can choose option 2, getting more revenue due to the slightly higher price.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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