AMD's Quad FX platform

AMD decides to socket to 'em

IN THE PC REALM, when you can't win by traditional means, there may be another reliable avenue available to you: move upmarket. This form of one-upsmanship has been masking technological shortcomings in increasing measure in recent years. Intel arguably started this trend in the CPU market when, on the eve of AMD's introduction of the Athlon 64, it uncorked the first Pentium Extreme Edition processor, basically a Xeon with scads of L3 cache pulled from the server market into service as a new flagship desktop part. At the prohibitive price of just one dollar short of a grand, the Extreme Edition wasn't intended to sell at high volumes. Its job was simply to defend the performance crown to the best of its prodigious ability. That's the beauty of the ultra-high-end product: a top product can rock the benchmarks yet only ship in a few hundreds or thousands of units.

With that background, perhaps you will understand why we were skeptical when AMD unveiled its plans for a new platform, code-named "4x4", just as Intel prepared processors based on its excellent new Core microarchitecture for release. The initial concept was about as extreme as they come, with the "4x4" signifying the combination of four CPU cores (in two sockets) and four GPUs in the same system. From the sound of it, these boxes would only come from boutique PC vendors like Alienware and Voodoo, and they would cost more than a reasonably well-equipped Honda Civic. We were underwhelmed by some of these constraints, especially the initial exclusivity to PC makers, and said so at the time.

Fortunately, AMD was listening. The 4x4 concept has undergone some moderation since it was first announced, and those constraints have been eased somewhat. What's left is a new enthusiast-oriented PC platform that officially sanctions what some of us have been doing since the days of the Celeron 300A: running multiple processors in an enthusiast-class system. (By "processor," of course, I mean one of things that you stick into a socket on a motherboard, not just another CPU core on a chip.) The first incarnations of "4x4", now known as the Quad FX platform, will deliver quad CPU cores into desktop systems starting today. You may be asking yourself a number of questions upon reading this news. Questions like: Yeah, but can it keep pace with Intel's mighty Core 2 Extreme QX6700 quad-core processor? Why would I want one? What can you really do with four cores? Will Britney and K-Fed patch things up, or is it really over? Fear not, my friend, for we have the answers to three of those four questions. Read on to find them.

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