Intel has produced a winner with its Core Duo 2 design; and for the first time in years, the company holds a clear performance advantage over its longtime rival, AMD. But while the short-term performance picture may look bleak for AMD, don't count the company out.
In addition to its aggressive price cuts this month, later this year, it will launch 4x4, an enthusiast platform that enables systems to use a pair of high-end dual-core chips. Though applications and games capable of taking full advantage of multiple CPU cores are rare as yet, we expect the performance--and price--of 4x4 systems to be quite high.
Looking further into the future, AMD will open up its HyperTransport bus, allowing other companies to design specialized coprocessors and accelerators and drop them onto the same superfast bus that AMD uses to shuttle data between the CPU, RAM, and other key components in a system. Such coprocessors could be built into a CPU package for multisocket systems or designed as add-in boards for a new slot type dubbed HTX.
This initiative, which AMD is calling Torrenza, will debut on the server side, where multisocket systems are already common and where specialized processors could accelerate Java code or database operations. Desktop and gaming applications are farther away; but if demand is high enough, Torrenza-based physics or graphics coprocessors could appear in the next few years.
Ultimately, however, while 4x4 and Torrenza are interesting technologies, neither is likely to have a large mainstream impact. AMD's true answer to Core 2 Duo will arrive in 2007, when it is scheduled to launch its next-generation CPU architecture, dubbed "K8L." K8L and single-chip quad-core processors will be compatible with 4x4 motherboards, according to AMD.
In the meantime, no matter what their budget, demanding PC users have a high-performance option in the Core 2 Duo line, which should keep their processor-intensive applications humming along.