Dual-CPU kits for '4x4' to sell for under a grand

In a demonstration session for the media at its Silicon Valley headquarters yesterday, AMD revealed a few more details about its plans for its upcoming enthusiast-oriented platform, code-named 4x4. As we reported earlier, 4x4 will be a dual-socket solution for enthusiast and gaming PCs. Representatives from Nero, Luxology, VoodooPC, and Microsoft were on hand to speak about the value of multithreading and the emergence of what AMD calls the "mega-tasking" usage model, a purportedly new way of using a PC that will be intimately familiar to TR readers. I called it having "umpteen different windows open running a zillion things with your hair on fire"—way back in 2002.

Regardless, the idea behind 4x4 is a good one: to give enthusiasts a crack at getting to larger numbers of CPU cores sooner by fostering the development of dual-socket motherboards with tweakability and a strong enthusiast feature set. One of our major concerns about these plans, however, was AMD's stated intention to tie the 4x4 initiative to pricey Athlon 64 FX processors. Even after AMD's recent and dramatic price cuts, requiring a pair of Athlon 64 FX processors would make the price of entry for 4x4 over $1600—for the CPUs alone. That would make 4x4 a high-priced, low-volume stunt—an "image product" with a very limited customer base—rather than a compelling reason for PC hobbyists to turn their attention from Intel's excellent new Core 2 processors.

Fortunately, AMD has listened to feedback from the enthusiast community on this issue, and has pledged to sell a range of two-CPU bundles for 4x4 with price tags that extend to "well under $1000." Beyond that, many of the details of AMD's 4x4 plans are either undetermined or not yet ready for prime time. All of these processors will carry the Athlon 64 FX brand name, but AMD was not willing to discuss details like clock frequencies or L2 cache sizes for these new FX chips. We asked about the prospects for 4x4 capable versions of AMD's Energy Efficent Athlon 64 X2 CPUs, and AMD's reps said only that they'd consider the possibility.

In addition to aggressively priced two-processor bundles, the company is mulling over how to handle customers who may want to buy one processor for a 4x4 system up front and purchase a second one later as an upgrade.

We also learned yesterday that the 4x4 platform will include two DIMMs slots associated with each processor, just like an Opteron system. That should give 4x4 four channels of high-speed DDR2 memory, or twice the effective memory bandwidth of a single-socket Athlon 64 system, with the qualification that 4x4 systems will require four DIMMS for optimal performance and follow a non-uniform memory access model, also just like an Opteron system.

AMD's Pat Moorehead, VP of Advanced Marketing, reiterated that the first 4x4 systems will be able to host a pair of AMD's quad-core processors once those CPUs become available. So eight-core systems are definitely in the works. Moorehead also avoided pinning the "x4" in the 4x4 code name to the number of GPUs in the system, saying the "x4" could refer to the number of hard drives or the gigs of RAM in a system instead. AMD fostered the impression that 4x4 would include multi-GPU solutions like quad SLI when they first introduced the concept, but the concept now seems to be focused mainly on dual CPU sockets. Could this be related to the fact that AMD just moved to purchase ATI, and that ATI hasn't yet managed to deliver a quad-GPU CrossFire configuration? Perhaps, or perhaps "4x4" is just a dreadful codename. Moorehead offered another internal AMD code name for the platform that we like better: The Quadfather.

We didn't get enough new information about 4x4 yesterday to really handicap its prospects, but the indications are now better than we expected. Lower-priced CPU options should broaden this platform’s appeal, and we have a pretty good sense that the bundled dual-CPU deals wouldn't be in the works if AMD were only planning to offer 4x4 through boutique PC makers like VoodooPC. We expect to see motherboards and processors selling directly to enthusiasts, which is the only way this thing will really matter. AMD says it intends for a dual-socket enthusiast platform to become a long-term staple of its product line, and if that's true, 4x4 may prove to be a really nice development for PC hobbyists, not just a stunt to distract attention from The Other Guy's shiny new processors.

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