AMD adds second core to powerful gaming processor

AMD has introduced a dual-core version of its gaming processor.

Advanced Micro Devices will release a dual-core version of its most powerful and expensive PC processor for high-end gamers after using a single-core design in that segment for several months.

Last April, when AMD first introduced dual-core versions of its Athlon 64 processors, known as the X2 line, it stuck with single-core designs for its top-of-the-line FX brand. But with gaming companies starting to tweak their games to take advantage of dual-core technology, the time has come to release the dual-core FX-60, said Mike Field, product manager for Athlon 64 FX processors.

Chip companies are moving to dual-core designs in part to alleviate the heat problems caused by running single-core chips at ever faster frequencies to improve performance. The combination of two slightly slower processor cores can get more work done overall than one fast core, but single-threaded applications such as most games are unable to take advantage of both cores. If no changes other than clock speed are made to the chip, single-threaded applications will perform worse on slower dual-core chips compared to faster single-core processors.

AMD avoided introducing dual-core chips into its high-end gaming segment for just that reason when it unveiled the first dual-core desktop chips last year, Field said. But game developers are starting to release patches that help their games take advantage of dual-core chips, he said, noting the recent release of a patch for Raven Software's Quake 4.

To truly make the most of dual-core chips, games need to be designed from the start for that type of processor, but such development efforts are under way at many game development studios, Field said.

"All of the software developers understand that the writing is on the wall. They'll have to do a lot of this for console development," Field said. Microsoft's new Xbox 360 uses a PowerPC chip with three cores, while Sony's upcoming Playstation 3 will use the nine-core Cell processor.

Even so, AMD claims that even players of single-core games will see an increase in performance with the dual-core 2.6GHz FX-60 as compared to the single-core 2.8GHz FX-57 processor. The FX-57 came with 1M byte of Level 2 cache, but the FX-60 features 1M byte of Level 2 cache dedicated to each core. Cache memory stores frequently used data close to the CPU (central processing unit), where it can be accessed more quickly than data stored in memory.

The FX-60 processor will cost US$1,031 in quantities of 1,000 when it is formally released Tuesday. Current FX processor owners will be able to pop the new chip into their existing motherboards but will need to perform a BIOS update, Field said.

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Tom Krazit

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