updated 09:35 am EST, Fri November 21, 2008
AMD Phenom II at 4GHz
AMD's mainstream Phenom II processors should rekindle the competition with Intel for clock speed, according to a collection of reports of an AMD demonstration session. Based on the recently unveiled Shanghai architecture being used for new Opterons, the quad-core desktop chips should make a modest leap to 3GHz in official clock speeds but will have room for overclocking previously only available with Intel's Core 2 chips. An example tested by AMD is capable of running reliably at 4GHz with fan-based cooling and shows the company could upgrade the clock speed to match or beat Intel if necessary.
The scalability also grows with extreme cooling methods, which test the absolute limits of the chip. Cooling using dry ice reaches about 5GHz, while a special liquid nitrogen approach is said to top 6.3GHz. Systems based on Intel's Core i7 architecture, such as the Dell XPS 730x, often reach 3.73GHz on air cooling and in custom systems peak at about 5.7GHz.
These improvements come from a combination of shrinking the manufacturing process down from 65nm for current Phenoms to 45nm for the Phenom II, reducing the power and resulting heat, but also optimizations to the architecture itself that dramatically improve the potential clock speed while also improving the efficiency per clock cycle.
Phenom II is scheduled to launch in early 2009 and should renew competition for AMD, which has struggled for more than a year to remain close to Intel in clock speed and actual performance. The company has often been forced to offer its processors at lower prices; it promises to do so again with Phenom II, but will now use it as a marketing advantage over the expensive Core i7 rather than as a necessity.
"Phenom II is a big step up, too, but you don't have to open your wallet as wide to make that step up," AMD spokesman John Taylor claims.