|AMD: Staying The Course
While Intel has been extremely vocal about its future plans, AMD has been surprisingly private. So private, in fact, that we had to dig particularly deep to gather information regarding its upcoming processors and new architectures.
AMD will not be switching to a 65nm fabricating process for its CPUs in 2006. Although the company has announced the development of 65-nanometer manufacturing technology with IBM, it's unlikely that AMD will be able to re-tool its plants to implement the new process with this year's CPU releases. As such, it's probable that the company will not release a new CPU architecture in 2006 either.
It appears that in 2006, this chipmaker will focus on two strategic concepts. First, AMD will integrate new virtualization and security technologies into its existing CPU lines. Second, in an attempt to gain some ground on Intel's dominant Pentium M and upcoming mobile processors, the company will focus much of its efforts on a big push for its Turion 64 mobile line of processors.
Details are hard to come by, but these plans will likely include a dual-core mobile CPU in the first half of 2006 and a brand new socket, code-named "Socket S," appearing in the second half of the year.
Fortunately for AMD, its current generation of processors -- including the dual-core X2 line -- tend to outperform Intel at the low, mid-range, and high end of the CPU spectrum. Will Intel's switch to 65nm change these circumstances? Possibly. This should make 2006 an interesting and competitive year.
One of AMD's key pushes for 2006 is neither a new processor architecture nor a new fabricating process, but a brand-new virtualization technology code-named Pacifica. Technically, Pacifica debuted at the end of 2005, but it will only begin to appear in new AMD CPU releases -- not including older lines -- fabricated and released in 2006.
Virtualization is a way to run multiple operating systems, or multiple instances of the same operating system, on a single computer. (Intel released its own virtualization technology in 2005.) This technology is a boon for software developers, and will boost security and reduce scaling costs for servers. Virtualization also has benefits for desktop PC users -- imagine running both Windows and Linux applications at the same time.
Beyond enabling virtualization, a big component of Pacifica is to reduce the performance hit that virtualization carries with it.
Hello, M2 (Or Whatever)
AMD's biggest news of the year will come in the second half of 2006 when its brand-new socket becomes available. Originally code-named "M2," this 940-pin socket will finally allow Athlon 64-based systems to utilize speedier DDR2 memory and will result in a marked improvement of CPU and system performance. Recent Internet reports have indicated that the new socket will not be released with the "M2" name or the "Socket F" moniker that has also been used, but will be named "Socket AM2."
Whatever its name, shortly after the new socket debuts, AMD will release processors in the Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64, and Sempron lines for the new socket. In line with the new socket's DDR2 support, each of these new processors will feature onboard DDR2 memory controllers.
But What About The Chips?
Over the course of 2006, AMD will likely release new processors in these four product lines:
Athlon 64 X2: The pride and joy of AMD's CPU arsenal is the dual-core X2 line, and it appears that in early 2006, the company will release an Athlon 64 X2 5000+ clocked at 2.6GHz. Later in the year, we should see the same processor for the new DDR2-enabled M2 socket.
Athlon 64 FX: Not surprisingly, Athlon's high-end performance line will receive at least one and probably two upgrades in 2006. In January, AMD is releasing the Athlon 64 FX-60, a speedy dual-core that will run at 2.6GHz. Like other FX series processors, the CPU will have a 1MB L2 cache. Although AMD isn't talking, we wouldn't be surprised if AMD releases another dual-core FX processor, the FX-61, in the second half of the year.
Athlon 64: Again, AMD has been surprisingly quiet regarding the future of its base line of Athlon 64 processors. With the focus on the X2 line of dual-core processors, single-core Athlon 64s appear to be taking a back seat. However, it appears that AMD will be releasing the 4000+, 3800+, and 3500+ series of processors for its new DDR2-enabled M2 socket in the second half of 2006.
Sempron: In an attempt to capture more of the low-end market, AMD is prepping numerous releases in its "value" Sempron category. In the first half of 2006, we should see the debut of Sempron 3500+, 3600+, and 3700+ CPUs. These new processors will feature 64-bit extensions. In the second half of 2006, AMD will release an M2-based Sempron processor code-named "Manila." This processor will not include Pacifica virtualization capabilities, but it will include a dual-channel DDR2 memory controller -- that's a big deal for a value CPU.