Compatibility of Microprocessors Term Paper

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AMD Processors

AMD (Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.) is a Sunnyvale, California-based semiconductor manufacturer. The Company designs, manufactures and markets digital integrated circuits that are used in desktop and mobile PCs, workstations, servers, communications equipment and consumer electronics. Over the years, AMD has emerged as the only credible competitor to Intel Corp -- and has shipped more than 240 million PC processors worldwide since it was founded in 1969. This Report investigates the current product offerings by AMD, discusses their compatibility, and compares the performance of AMD processors with Intel Processors.

Current AMD Product Offerings

AMD is currently involved in the design, manufacture and marketing of Desktop, Mobile, Server, and Workstation processors.

Desktop Processors: AMD offers the full range of processors -- from the high-end 64-bit to the low-priced "budget" processor for the desktop PCs.

AMD Athlon 64: It is currently the Company's most advanced (8th generation) processor for desktop PCs and is advertised by AMD as "simply the best PC processor in the world." ("AMD Athlon 64": Processor Overview) The current top of the line processor is named AMD Athlon 64 FX while the rest of Athlon 64 processors are identified by a 4-digit model number that reflect the processor performance. The reason for the top-notch performance of the processor is its 64-bit configuration that enables it to run longer, more complex instructions than a 32-bit chip, improving the performance of data-intensive tasks such as audio and video encoding, advanced engineering design applications, and the next-generation computer games. The latest FX processors run on dual channels and can move up to 6.4GB of data per second as compared to the mainstream Athlon 64, which runs on a single-channel, can move up to 3.2 GB per second. Another feature of the chip is its Enhanced Virus Protection which is designed to trap the "buffer overrun" types of virus. AMD has designed its 64-bit processor to also run 32-bit applications just as efficiently with a seamless transition to 64-bit applications when required. Although very few 64-bit applications are available in the market at present, AMD believes that 64-bit computing would be the wave of the future and the Athlon 64 would be at the forefront of the computing revolution. (Ibid.)

AMD Sempron: Sempron is the recently released 'budget' processor by AMD that replaces the Duron processor -- the low cost chip that is still marketed in some 'emerging markets' such as China and Latin America. Sempron chips are based both on the 7th generation Athlon XP core and the 8th generation Athlon 64 core, but none of the chips have the 64-bit capabilities of the Athlon 64. (Krazit & Mainelli, para # 2) The Sempron processor is similar to Intel's Celeron, i.e., a processor with less Cache memory than the company's more expensive (in case of Intel, the Pentium 4) processor. The Sempron chips based on the Athlon XP core have half the Cache memory of the Athlon XP. The chip based on Athlon 64 core retains some of its features such as the Virus Protection but does not have the capability to run 64-bit applications. Sempron is far less expensive than the Athlon-64 ($40~$126) and is aimed at the home users who need enhanced capability for video, music downloads and gaming at an affordable price but have little use for 64-bit applications.

AMD Athlon XP: This is the older (7th generation) AMD Athlon processor, which the company aims to phase out with its new (8th generation) 64-bit processors. The currently available XP processor is 3200+, which runs at 2.2 GHz, has two levels of cache memory (L1 cache size= 128 KB; L2 cache = 526 KB). The processors incorporate the 3D Now and MMX multimedia capability. The XP rating 3200+ of the model indicates that the Athlon XP processor approximates the performance of a Pentium 4 processor of 3.2 GHz clock-speed (although running at a lower speed of 2.2 GHz).

Mobile Processors: The mobile processors produced by AMD are available in approximately the same categories as the desktop processors described above. For example, the top-end Mobile AMD Athlon 64 processor is capable of running both 32-bit as well as 64-bit applications and is being used for mobile computing and notebooks; the Mobile Sempron processor is the new 'budget' processor especially designed for mobile PCs for home and business everyday use. The Sempron Mobile processors for full size mobile PCs (Models # 3200+, 2800+ and 2600+) and for thin and light Mobile PCs (Models # 2800+ and 2600+). Besides, the Athlon XP-M processors are also being produced by the company. They incorporate the AMD PowerNow technology, which provides extended system battery life and the XP-M Model # 2200 is designed to take up less space and consume less power, making it suitable for thin and light notebooks that have a total cache memory of 630 KB (128KB L1 and 512KB of L2 cache) -- greater than the cache memory of the Sempron-M processor and thus suitable for performing improved multitasking and overall performance. ("Product Brief," Mobile AMD Athlon XP Processor) The XP-M processors are fully compatible with Windows XP as well as the older versions of Windows.

Server and Workstation Processors:

AMD also produces and markets processors for servers and workstations. These are, namely: "AMD Opteron" for Servers, "AMD Opteron" for Workstations, "AMD Athlon MP" for Servers and AMD Athlon MP for Workstations. The Opteron processor is the equivalent of the AMD Athlon 64 processors for the desktop and mobile PCs. It has the capability of running both 64-bit and 32-bit applications simultaneously with equal facility. The AMD Opteron processor is available in 1 to 8-way servers and 1 to 4-way workstation solutions. They are aimed for use in small and medium businesses, government/education institutions, and companies that require faster database transactions, or support for users on e-commerce applications. The AMD Athlon MP processor for Servers and Workstations is the entry-level low cost processor for companies that have standardized on the 32-bit IT environments and do not have the need for the 64-bit applications as yet.

Compatibility of AMD Processors

AMD goes to great length to ensure compatibility of its processors with the existing software applications. For example, AMD processors are compatible with 32-bit x86 operating systems including Microsoft Windows XP, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and multiple Linux and Unix operating systems. AMD claims on its website that its processors are "designed for compatibility with more than 60,000 applications," which include, "the world's most popular digital content creation (DCC), computer aided design (CAD), geographic information systems, software development, and financial analysis applications." ("The AMD Athlon 64 FX processor"-Product Brief) Its mobile AMD Athlon XP-M and low voltage mobile Athlon XP-M processors are designed to support a wide range of wireless LAN standards, including the 54G802.11 and Bluetooth solutions.

As regards the compatibility of AMD processors with the hardware, the most important matter is their compatibility with the commonly available motherboards. Before the release of the first AMD Athlon processor in 1999, AMD processors' compatibility with motherboards was an issue. At that time, the leading AMD processors -- K 6-2 and K. 6-3, used the Socket 7 motherboards and the voltage requirements of the 2 processors were rather rigid. As a result only a few motherboards could tolerate such fine control over the voltages. Processor cooling was also an important issue with these chips due to the increased heat. (Risley, para on "AMD K. 6-2 and K. 6-3"). AMD developed a new Slot interface for Athlon processors, which it named Slot A. Although not electrically compatible with Slot 1 patented by Intel, the new interface was close enough to Slot 2 and allowed the major motherboard manufacturers to make main-boards that contained both sockets and accommodate both the Intel as well as AMD processors. From then on the AMD Athlon processors have not had problems of hardware or software compatibility.

Comparison of AMD and Intel Processors

All the discussion about AMD product offerings and the compatibility of AMD processors ultimately boils down to a comparison of AMD and Intel. There is no doubt that Intel is the worldwide leader in the microprocessor business and has a near monopoly of the market. The numbers indicate this overwhelmingly. Currently, about 90% of the microprocessor market is owned by Intel vs. about 10% for AMD, although AMD's CEO has declared that his company aims to capture 25% of the microprocessor market within 5 years. (Swanson, para 3) Considering the recent AMD successes in developing technically advanced processors (the 64-bit processors for PCs and dual core processors for Servers) the statement does not seem far-fetched.

If we look back at the history of CPU development, AMD has been a serious competitor of Intel since the 1990s. However, ever since AMD introduced the Athlon chip in 1999 and soon thereafter broke the 1 GHz clockspeed barrier, it has been at the cutting-edge of the micro-processor technology and continues to make significant improvements to the Athlon. Intel has been forced to be on…[continue]

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