A New World Order: The Athlon 64 FX And Athlon 64 Vs. The P4 Extreme

Batten down the hatches: AMD's 64-bit desktop processors, the Athlon 64 FX-51 and Athlon 64 3200+, are finally here. We can unequivocally say that this marks the most interesting and exciting comparison of the past two years. Well aware of what is at stake, the THG team allotted four weeks for this test.

In the same breath, there's another premier that was unknown, even to Intel brass, until a few days ago: the Pentium 4 in the Extreme version. If these developments are too much to handle, you can also download our new video.

Intel sent this document to OEMs two days before the launch of the P4 Extreme.

A New World Order: The Athlon 64 FX And Athlon 64 Vs. The P4 Extreme, Continued

AMD swung back with the "Hammer" and has its old archenemy Intel with its P4 (Extreme) in its sights. After all, for x86 CPUs, the market leader stole an important share of the market from the former upstart AMD, especially in the past two quarters. At the moment, the standings are 15.7 percent (AMD) to 82.5 percent (Intel), with the remaining 1.8 percent divided among the marginal actors VIA and Transmeta.


Market Share

Profit Margin
51 bis 54%
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The most important facts about the Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX-51 have been known for a long time from the workstation/server version of the Opteron (see article: Duel of the Elephants: AMD Hammer vs. Intel Xeon). The actual chief attraction of the Athlon 64 is that it was able to smooth out the bumps in the conversion from 32-bit to 64-bit software in this mass market of millions.

At the same time, Apple laid claim that with the G5 model, it would offer the world's most powerful desktop system. Apparently there are users who will believe these kinds of claims. Whatever - at least the G5 also has 64-bit support with regard to the software. Nevertheless, there is still no final operating system available for it.

Other 64-bitters worth mentioning are the Alpha 21364 (1150 MHz), IBM's PowerPC (1700 MHz) , Intel's Itanium 2 (1500 MHz) and, last but not least, Sun's UltraSparc III Cu (1200 MHz). Compared to the CPUs mentioned, which are only used in professional 64-bit environments, the Athlon 64 is the first CPU that could revolutionize the desktop market and thereby the mass market as well.

A New World Order: The Athlon 64 FX And Athlon 64 Vs. The P4 Extreme, Continued

An interesting detail on the side: On September 8, 2003, Intel initiated a press event. During this event, they tried, among other things, to get the reporters present to above all employ benchmarks in comparative tests that know how to use the multi-threading capabilities of the P4. Apparently, Intel is worried about falling into oblivion as a result of the prevailing "Hammer" euphoria amongst the trade journals.

Share the same construction: Athlon 64 FX and Opteron

Therefore, AMD's advertising message, which is found in numerous media, is as follows: Buy a 64-bit processor today in order to be equipped for a later conversion to Windows XP 64. It doesn't sound too absurd if you consider that the 32-bit base (x86-32) will have to be replaced in the medium term. After all, at 32 bits, the physical address space is theoretically limited to 4 GB. And memory requirements are continuing to increase so that the barriers can only be broken by converting to 64-bits - apart from tricks such as registry extensions.

This argument alone has Intel in a position where it can't offer resistance with the P4 - even with the souped-up "P4 Extreme" version. In talks with editors, Intel's future planners like to hint that a desktop platform wouldn't benefit from 64 bits in the near future. Still, according to rumors, Intel has long since made provisions and integrated the 64-bit expansion "Yamhill" in the Prescott core planned for November 26. Even longstanding Intel employees in the 78,000 strong company, who have inside information, are not able to confirm or dispute the existence of a secret team of developers.

New for old: Left, the Athlon XP and the two Athlon 64s

Four Different CPUs With One Design

The mandatory requirements for highly complex chip production - to make as many CPU variations as possible for various market segments from a single processor design - also apply to the Hammer core from AMD. Only with this method is it possible to keep the ASP (average selling price) high and guarantee adequate profit in the overall results. In principle, besides the Opteron workstation and server versions, there are presently two desktop processors: the Athlon 64 for the mass market and the Athlon 64 FX as the top model, initially in limited numbers.

In addition, the mobile version of the Athlon 64 is coming in October so that well-known manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, for example, can offer the first 64-bit notebooks. A special role is in store for the Athlon 64 FX. Some mainboard manufacturers are planning to offer the top model FX-51 in a bundle with an NForce-3 or K8T800 board. After all, AMD is having its own difficulties, particularly with this model, and only a few samples were distributed worldwide to the press before the launch date. In Europe, approximately a dozen samples were passed out among well-known representatives of the trade press. In addition, the situation for board manufacturers can't be foreseen. Industry insiders expect that soon Intel will drastically lower the prices of the P4. Nevertheless, it isn't clear in this connection when and to what extent AMD will be able to ship the Athlon 64 FX in any volume worth mentioning - consequently, FXes bought as a bundle for a high price could prove to be a disaster. It is more likely that in the current situation, a wait-and-see policy is the best strategy.

Here, the reasons that motivate end customers are quite clear. In their circle of friends, a 64-bit CPU is a guarantee for prestige and attention. In Athlon freak communities, having an Athlon 64 is almost the same as being raised to nobility. Nevertheless, expectations are very high that the desktop Athlon 64 will appear on the market after a delay of at least one year. And in this time, Intel has had a lot of time to prepare adequate counter potential. Actually, one has to say that it is much too much time. Nowhere has the grapevine been so alive in the past 18 months as when it involves philosophizing about technical details and performance of the new processors.

Intel Pentium 4 3.2 Extreme Edition

AMD Athlon 64 3200+

AMD Athlon XP 3200+

AMD Athlon 64 FX-51

Bad Choice: Launch Partner Nvidia

Launch partner Nvidia is standing by AMD for the launch of Desktop Athlon 64 CPUs. This cooperation is quite evident by the names - Athlon 64 FX and GeForce FX. Only three chipset developers were considered as part of preselection: ATI, Nvidia and VIA. The decision went to Nvidia so that the test systems that were shipped worldwide were based on the not yet mature NForce 3 chipset. For this reason, THG used various boards as a test basis, which were equipped with both the NForce-3 chipset from Nvidia and the K8T800 component from VIA.

Here are some details about our test course: We tested 18 processors from AMD and Intel in a 4-week endurance test. This included the Athlon 64 3200+ (2000 MHz) for the mass market, the Athlon 64 FX-51 (2200 MHz) for the ambitious 3D power gamer, all known Athlon XP CPUs (from 2500+ to 3200+) with 166 MHz and 200 MHz FSB in each case, and all Intel Pentium 4 CPUs from 2.4 GHz to 3.2 GHz with 133 MHz and 200 MHz FSB. The climax came from Intel who sent the P4 Extreme to the laboratory only a few minutes before this publication.

Some comments (on the side) for detail-loving enthusiasts: AMD sent a complete system with an Athlon 64 FX-51 for testing. It was based on an Asus S8KN with an NForce 3 chipset. In spite of many requests and personal contacts, the manufacturer didn't want to make a sample of the "normal" Athlon 64 available. After that, a mainboard manufacturer gave us the desired processor without further ado. The test basis is also completely new: Since the AMD platform was based on 1 GB of main memory, the other platforms also had to manage with this amount of memory.

Thanks to Tom's Hardware