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AMD Adds Virtualization, New CPUs To Desktop Line

Advanced Micro Devices officially launched its "AM2" socket upgrade on Tuesday, as the company tied its microprocessor products to next-generation DDR2 memory and added support for virtualization technology.

In support of the launch, AMD also added two new chips: an AMD64 2.8-GHz FX-62 processor, priced at $1,031, and an AMD 2.6-GHz 5000+ processor, priced at $696. Both prices represent lots of 1,000 units.

The new processors represent a true switch for AMD; the socket shift is a top-to-bottom transition made across all of AMD's desktop product lines, and neither the current 939-pin nor the older 754-pin processors will be able to connect to AM2 motherboards. According to David Schwarzbach, a product manager for AMD, Socket 754 chips will be phased out by the end of the year, and Socket 939 chips will be stockpiled until about the second half of the year, mainly for large corporate customers.

"This is really part of our rolling thunder strategy…as we work our way into the [Taiwan] Computex show in the first week of June," Schwarzbach said. The announcement follows the creation of AMD's energy-efficient processor line last week; another announcement tied to AMD's AMD Live! platform is expected before the show.

While the processors do include the first implementation of AMD's "Pacifica" virtualization technology, the chips themselves are just the first part of what AMD sees as an involved, complicated solution. Although the new processors are designed to support the operation of virtualized operating systems, other components, especially I/O peripherals such as disk drives, will need driver and O/S support to create a truly virtualized system, Schwarzbach said.

The chips will ship with embedded logic firmware that enables virtualization at the chip level, but will be designed to offer system designers the ability to offer virtualization just at the CPU level. "It's a walk before you can run strategy," Schwarzbach said. "IT will get the benefit immediately at the CPU level. It's the beginning of the enablement path, which will eventually move downstream to consumers. But first we need to get more work done, such as I/O virtualization. All devices that interface with the CPU need virtualization, and need drivers."

The new socket, tied to the new integrated DDR-2 controller, provides some performance headroom that will be filled up as AMD ramps faster processors. Although AMD's low-end Sempron will likely never use up the available bandwidth, Schwarzbach said that the shift was being made to accommodate board suppliers.

Between 15 to 30 boards in each performance segment – covering the Sempron, Athlon 64, Athlon X2, and Athlon FX lines – will be made available from AMD's board partners, including Abit, Asustek, ECS, Elitegroup, and others. Third-party chipsets, including Nvidia's first 500-series nForce chipsets, have also been launched in support of the new parts.

"Rather than a phased approach, which we could have done, which would have monopolized design resources over an extended basis, we decided to manage complexity by offering a simplified approach," Schwarzbach said.


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