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The Quad-Father of Computing?

AMD's 4 way play detailed at 4-core Enthusiast Tech Demo Day

By John Virata

Imagine being able to compose an email, perform a spyware scan, burn a DVD, and rip a CD simultaneously on the same PC. Or encode a video, play a game, edit an image, and Skype your friends at the same time. Sound far fetched? AMD is hoping to make "Megatasking," or Extreme Multitasking, a reality when it introduces its quad core CPUs to the market in 2007. At AMD's July 25 4-core Enthusiast Technology Demo Day, AMD detailed to a select few journalists and analysts the company's CPU future and a new extreme PC enthusiasts market that it will target.

Calling these extreme PC enthusiasts as a class of users who need to do just those things mentioned above, more than what a current computer can do today, the company will offer quad core CPUs that, while seemingly workstation class, is targeted at those who like to tweak their machines to get the most power out of them. These megataskers, the company said, comprise the market that AMD is hoping will purchase such systems. Currently called the 4x4 under AMD's FX line of CPUs (AMD Athlon FX X4?), the company will offer multiple configurations of the 4x4 CPUs and is pushing to offer up to 8 core processing power on a single system (dual socket configuration) with two CPU pricing starting at less than $1000.

From left: Craig Campbell, Brad Peebler, Rahul Sood, Chris Satchell.

To validate the market, AMD brought several executives from differing companies into the discussion to talk about the need for such a system, including Craig Campbell, US Technical Director of Nero, Inc.; Brad Peebler, President of Luxology, a provider of 3D content creation tools; Rahul Sood, president and CTO of VoodooPC, an extreme game PC builder; and Chris Satchell, general manager of the Microsoft Game Development Group. All have platforms and systems that can take advantage of a 4x4 system, which AMD says will speed processing greatly. To showcase the speed, AMD showed a current FX dual core system getting trounced by an identically configured 4x4 system in the Cinebench and 3DMark 06 benchmarks.

Said Luxology's Peebler, "Our users are incredibly power hungry, and when we started this company, we were betting on threading." Running the company's Modo application on the 4x4 systems, Peebler saw an extreme boost in rendering capabilities. "The end result is we get 90 percent boost as we add multiple cores to handle the rendering tasks. It is all about multiple CPUs. If your app is threaded properly, you'll see near linear rendering." At the other end of the extreme megatasking spectrum stood Rahul Sood, president of game PC maker Voodoo PC. PC gamers are always at the cutting edge of the PC market, buying the latest and fastest components money can buy, a market that AMD is obviously going after with 4x4.  "Hardcore gamers are about the bare minimum," Sood said. They want all the processing power directed at the game they are playing, and not allowing the CPU to perform other tasks. With 4x4, game players will be enabled to perform multiple tasks, he said. "Most visionaries in the industry see 4x4 as the next step in gaming," Sood said. "Multitasking on the enthusiast platform is the next big thing."

If there is anything that can exploit the power of multi-core CPUs, it is game development and game play. Microsoft's Chris Satchell believes that multi-core and multi-threading in games is the future. He said one of the things missing from the gaming world is real interactivity. "What is missing from our world is the interactivity, what's going to take gaming to the next level would be seeing hundreds of people in a single scene on a city road instead of just a few." The player would be able to interact with the characters in the game and they would respond as if they were in the real world and that the responses wouldn't be pre programmed. "You get great games when the games are developed in real time and not by watching a progress bar. Imagine a world where your playing halo 2 in Vista....while your also running a dedicated server on another core." One thing that you should really take away is multi-core and multithreading is the leading edge for the future, Satchell said.

Somewhat overshadowing AMD's push to 4x4 computing was AMD's proposed acquisition of ATI. While not much could be said because the deal isn't even done and hasn't yet past the smell test with the FTC, Pat Moorhead, AMD vice president of advanced marketing, did speak in generalities about the proposed acquisition and what roadmap the combined companies would follow when and if the deal goes through.

AMD's Pat Moorhead speaks on 4x4 computing, proposed ATI acquisition.

"The acquisition of ATI was many years in the making," said Pat Moorhead, AMD vice president of Advanced marketing. "The goal is to build a processing powerhouse," he said. The company looked at all the companies out there and decided that ATI was the best fit and provided the best road to the future. Moorhead outlined a roadmap for AMD once the deal is closed, including a combined CPU+GPU by 2007+8 as well as a tiered computing platform, including a heavy graphics platform whereby the CPU is mated with an equivalent GPU, a data platform that is built around a heavy tasking CPU will be combined with a great chipset, a balanced platform where both the CPU, chipset, and GPU are working in a balanced, stable environment, and a multimedia, MCE-centric platform that mates a proper GPU with an equally suited CPU. The proposed acquisition will enable AMD to better serve its customers, Moorhead said, specifically those who want an integrated graphics solution.

The combined companies will focus on commercial clients, mobile computing, and consumer electronics, markets where ATI already has a strong presence. For 2007, AMD will offer solutions optimized for Microsoft Vista, will try to extend battery life on the company's Turion mobile platform, and will go after more robust commercial clients.

The market, Moorhead said, will decide if users will wish to continue to pursue an AMD CPU solution with a graphics solution from other graphics chip providers. He said that AMD processors will never be required to use ATI specific graphics cards/chipsets.

John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]

Related Keywords:AMD 4x4, Megatasking, Extreme multitasking, AMD 4 core processing

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