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AMD Athlon 64 : The Athlon 64 3200+ and FX-51 - Here & now
Today sees the launch of AMD's much talked about Athlon 64 processor. We've already talked about the AMD64 architecture, HyperTransport and supporting chipsets, now the processor itself is with us. The aim of this article is to provide specific information about what's being launched today and tie up some loose ends that we weren't allowed to talk about until now.

Two desktop Athlon 64 processors are being launched today, the 3200+ and FX-51. The decision to launch two variants is quite simple; with the former being aimed at value-conscious consumers and the latter giving what AMD term "prosumers", a product for consumers to lust over. In their fight against Intel, the Athlon 64 'non FX' is being pitted against Intel's upcoming Prescott processor, to be launched in November. The Athlon 64 FX on the other hand isn't compared against anything, presumably because AMD believe nothing Intel can manufacture will be able to compete in the same league as this processor. Can we detect a hint of possible arrogance in such a statement?

The reaction of most journalists, including ourselves was of surprise when AMD announced that one of their new Athlon 64 processors will be given the same performance rating as the highest performing Athlon XP. The answer to the obvious question "why?" is that AMD believe this processor doesn't merit a higher performance rating. they state that "it doesn't quite make 3300". This is undoubtedly going to cause confusion and make many people unhappy at the performance rating system as it's clear that an Athlon 64 3200+ is faster than a Athlon XP 3200+. This processor will be clocked at 2.0GHz and features 1MB of Level 2 cache running at full speed (2.0GHz).

The Athlon 64 will have 754 pins and features a 64-bit memory interface (single channel DDR 400) which requires standard unbuffered memory. The range of 64bit processors is designed to "spin quickly" and also claims to have its frequency increased quickly, say AMD. Priced to reflect its mass market appeal, the Athlon 64 3200+ will cost $417 at the time of launch.

AMD also claim that the Athlon 64 3200+ is 8-10% faster than a Pentium 4 3.2GHz and 7-15% faster than an Athlon XP 3200+. Here we see a graphic illustration of disparity between AMD's own performance rating system and their performance claims.

The Athlon 64 FX-51 is the top-of-the-range processor heading up AMD's desktop line. The FX brand is being positioned as their "top-end" brand. Should you break down the naming convention, FX is the "class designator" with 51 being the series number. AMD say that if it were to use the performance rating system, the FX-51 would be around the 3600+ to 3800+ mark. Again product branding or simply naming doesn't seem to be AMD's strong point and you can draw parallels with NVIDIA's FX series of graphics accelerators, it makes little sense to us, why they should stick with performance ratings on the mainstream Athlon 64 product and go with a completely different rationale for their ultimate.

Clocked at 2.2GHz featuring dual channel DDR 400 support this processor identical in architecture with the only changes occurring in the memory controller. Apart from dual channel support it will require the use of registered memory. Those with a keen eye will notice that registered memory generally doesn't overclock as well as standard, unbuffered modules. This processor is designed to excel in memory intensive tasks. The FX-51 will also have 1MB of cache running at full processor speed (2.2GHz).

The FX-51 will have 940 pins and a 128-bit memory interface (dual channel 64-bit). Priced at $733, the Athlon 64 FX-51 not a cheap bit of kit, and to their credit AMD never made any moves to conceal that fact. AMD claim that this processor is 10-20% faster than a Pentium 4 3.2GHz and 14-23% faster than an Athlon XP 3200+.

Common ground

Although two processors were launched today, several similarities are present. The Athlon 64 is the first desktop processors from AMD to feature "Cool 'n Quiet" technology. Similar to PowerNow technology found in their mobile processors they aim to reduce power consumption and noise.

Although Cool 'n Quiet isn't as aggressive in reducing processor voltages as it's mobile counterpart, power can be reduced to 16W through a reduction in frequency. This power rating can be achieved with the processor running at 800MHz. The standard power consumption of a Athlon 64 processor is around 89W.

The software controlling Cool 'n Quiet technology sits above ACPI and has native Windows support with the user being able to set their personal preferences. The ability to switch off Cool 'n Quiet in the BIOS will be present in future motherboards and is only likely require a BIOS update on current ones. The idea of performance on demand has been present in notebook technology for sometime, and utilizing similar techniques we see it on the desktop for the first time.

Both processors feature 1MB of Level 2 cache running at full speed. Our thoughts on this are detailed a little later, but it means that performance will be differentiated through memory intensive tasks and frequency between the Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64 FX.

Due to an integrated memory controller, if the user wants to upgrade to faster memory, such as DDR 500 for example, they will require a completely new processor. One can avoid this if they want to overclock their processor though.