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AMD To Roll Out Low-Power Desktop CPUs
By Kristen Kenedy, CRN
12:01 AM EDT Tue. May. 16, 2006

Advanced Micro Devices, which has spent the last year touting power savings in its server processors, on Tuesday plans to unveil a line of desktop CPUs with models that the company says will run 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 next month, said David Schwartzbach, AMD's division marketing manager, desktops. The processors will be available in dual-core 64-bit models under the Athlon 64 X2 brand, single-core 64-bit models under the Athon 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 from the processor.

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 formfactor PCs for businesses.

A number of system builders have already started building small form factor designs that use low-power mobile processors. ASUS, 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. "The bill of materials costs for a desktop is slightly lower," he said.

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, solution provider, said the chips could give set top boxes and media PCs a boost, particularly those used in living room environments, doctor's 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.

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.

As expected, the new low-power option comes at a price premium. For example, an existing AMD Althlon 64 X2, with a thermal design point of 89 watts, is currently priced at $303 in small quantities. The new 65-watt version of that product is priced at $323 and the 35-watt model is priced at $364.

Other Athlon 64 X2 65-watt models are as follows: 4800+, $671; 4600+, $601; 4400+, $514; 4200+, $417; 4000+ $353; and 3800+, $323.

Other 35-watt options are: Athlon 64 3500+, $231; Sempron 3400+, $145; Sempron 3200+ $119; and Sempron 3000+ $101.