AMD's Socket AM2 processors

With DDR2 and a few new wrinkles

AMD HAS REAPED tremendous benefits from integrating a memory controller into the Athlon 64. Bringing the memory interface one step closer to the CPU has minimized a persistent performance bottleneck in modern microprocessors, and that's part of the reason the Athlon 64 has been performing backboard-shattering dunks over the heads of Pentiums with regularity since late 2003. The quickness and towering vertical leap came at a cost, however: AMD gained responsibility for managing the memory interface for its processors. That responsibility is why we are gathered here today—to take a look at AMD's new Socket AM2 processors that incorporate a revamped memory controller capable of talking with the industry's emerging PC memory standard, DDR2.

AMD's move to DDR2 memory is a way more complex beast than past transitions to new memory technologies precisely because of that integrated memory controller. We're not just talking about some new chipsets and motherboards here. Oh, no, old timer; this here newfangled technology is different. AMD has cooked up a new CPU socket and an entire top-to-bottom lineup of new CPUs in order to make DDR2 support possible, from lowly Semprons to the fire-breathing Athlon 64 FX-62.

These new processors face some daunting challenges. Intel is well ahead of AMD in manufacturing technology right now, and the latest Pentiums manage to bring higher performance, lower power use, and smaller thermal envelopes than the "Hot'n'Loud" Pentiums of the 90-nanometer era. At the same time, Intel has slashed prices like a used car salesman after a hail storm, making its Pentium D series a better value than ever. Not only that, but these Socket AM2 processors will have to fend for themselves against Intel's upcoming Conroe processor, all but assured to set new standards for high performance and low power consumption when it hits the market in a month or two.

AMD has equipped the CPUs in its new lineup with a number of new tools, so that they may face these difficult trials. But do the Socket AM2 processors bring the kinds of advances in performance and energy efficiency necessary to keep AMD in the lead? We've tested 10 different CPU configurations in a battery of benchmarks in order to find out.

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