AMD's Phenom II Makes Early Move to DDR3

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Advanced Micro Devices on Monday released some multicore desktop PC processors that work with a faster memory type, promising a boost in system performance.

The company's Phenom II quad-core and triple-core chips include DDR3 memory controllers, which allow data to be passed between the CPU and memory faster than existing DDR2 controllers. Aimed at mainstream desktops, the chips run at speeds from 2.5GHz to 2.8GHz and include various cache sizes.

The support for DDR3 comes earlier than anticipated. Late last year AMD said it would support the faster memory type by the middle of 2009, but it also said it might bring that forward depending on memory prices and other factors.

AMD is taking an early step to incorporate DDR3 as the industry prepares for a broad transition from DDR2, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. The more affordable DDR2 memory dominates the PC market, but a full transition to DDR3 may occur by the middle of 2010, McCarron said.

The Phenom II chips will also work with DDR2 chips for users who want a more cost-effective memory option, said David Schwarzbach, senior manager of platform marketing at AMD. DDR3 memory today can cost as much as three times more than DDR2 chips, Schwarzbach said.

The processors will plug into new AM3 sockets to communicate with DDR3 modules installed on the motherboard. Motherboard companies such as Asustek Computer have already announced AM3-compatible motherboards. The new CPUs also work with AMD's AM2+ motherboard sockets, which support only DDR2 memory.

The first Phenom II chips were introduced last month. The processors are manufactured using a 45-nanometer process.

The new additions include the quad-core Phenom II X4 910, which runs at 2.6GHz with 8MB of cache, and the 800-series quad-core processors, which run at between 2.5GHz and 2.6GHz and have 6MB of cache. Pricing for only one of those chips was available, the X4 810 at 2.6GHz, which costs US$175.

The triple-core processors are new to the Phenom II lineup. The X3 720 runs at 2.8GHz and the X3 710 runs at 2.6GHz, and both have 7.5MB of cache. They are priced at $145 and $125, respectively. The triple-core processors are quad-core chips with one of the cores disabled, Schwarzbach said.

Tweaks in the core and cache allow AMD to offer more performance at similar price points to its earlier chips, McCarron said.

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