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AMD To Roll Out Low-Power CPUs
By Kristen Kenedy, CRN
3:00 PM EDT Fri. May. 26, 2006
From the May 29, 2006 CRN

Advanced Micro Devices, which has spent the last year touting power savings in its server processors, plans to roll out a line of desktop CPUs with models that the company says will be more than twice as efficient as some of its mainstream desktop parts.

AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif., will begin shipping production quantities of low-power Athlon and Sempron CPUs later this month or early June, said David Schwartzbach, AMD’s marketing manager of the desktop division. The processors will be available in dual-core 64-bit models under the Athlon 64 X2 brand, single-core 64-bit models under the Athlon 64 brand and single-core 32-bit models under the Sempron brand.

Those processors will be offered in an energy efficient line that will run at a thermal design point of 65 watts or an energy-efficient small form factor option that will run at a thermal design point of 35 watts. AMD’s current desktop processors have a thermal design point of 51 watts to 110 watts, depending on the model, according to specifications on its Web site. Schwartzbach said a typical desktop processor runs at about 89 watts.

AMD’s thermal design point is the maximum power draw a system builder can expect to get from the processor, but Schwartzbach noted that designers can develop systems that require less draw.

Schwartzbach said AMD was able to get the power savings in the new chip by leveraging its manufacturing processes. “We noticed that we were yielding parts well below the thermal design point of standard processors,” he said.

The processors also use AMD’s existing Cool’n’Quiet technology, which adjusts load demand during non-CPU intensive tasks and can reduce the amount of fan-time needed.

Schwartzbach expects the parts to be used in a variety of systems from fanless, quiet designs for living room PCs and other home appliances, to blade servers and small form factor PCs for businesses.

A number of system builders already have started building small form factor designs that use low-power mobile processors. ASUS-Tek, for example, is offering a ViiV entertainment PC motherboard that uses Intel Core Duo processors.

Schwartzbach said using a low-power desktop CPU instead of a mobile CPU in such designs means system builders will get more power and higher-end features because chip makers often scale back some features in mobile CPUs to get more power savings. For example, he noted desktop systems can accept a wider variety of storage and cheaper memory modules.

Custom system builders said they believe the low-power CPUs will see the most traction in the home market, where entertainment PCs in the living room are gaining steam, but also noted that large companies could see some power savings from deploying the processors. Byron Hay, production manager at HBR Technologies, a Carrollton, Texas-based solution provider, said the chips could give set-top boxes and media PCs a boost, particularly those used in homes, doctors’ offices and law offices.

“The place where low power is really helpful is in the appliance market,” he said. “That is where things really need to be quiet.”

Glen Coffield, president of Cheap Guys Computers, an Orlando, Fla., system builder, said large companies that deploy hundreds of PCs could see a benefit from a lower-power CPU option. “If they have lots of PCs, you can talk energy savings,” he said. But he noted small businesses, many driven by cost, are not as likely to bite on an option that carries a price premium. AMD also is shipping new standard desktop processors on the new AM2 socket. The new socket offers support for faster DDR2 memory and virtualization. The chip maker’s high-end offering, the FX-62 dual core, will run at 2.8GHz with 1 Mbyte cache on each core with a 125-watt thermal design point. It will carry a price of $1,031 in low quantities.

The Athlon 64 X2 dual core will get two models, one running at 2.6GHz and the other at 2.2GHz. Each will include 512 Kbytes cache on each core and will run at a thermal design point of 89 watts. Pricing is $696 and $328, respectively.

AMD will move other Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 and Sempron (without virtualization) processors to the AM2 socket.

Coffield said he is most enthusiastic about a standardized socket for both Sempron and Athlon CPUs. The new CPUs will use a common AM2 socket, he said, while current Semprons use a 754 socket and current Athlons use a 949 socket. The unified socket will help Cheap Guys manage inventory more effectively, he said.