AMD Rolls Out 4x4 Chip Platform

The company tries to step up to Intel's quad-core challenge.
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Advanced Micro Devices

(AMD) - Get Report

made its latest bid to woo the lucrative and influential enthusiast segment of the PC market Thursday with the introduction of its so-called 4x4 platform.

With the 4x4, PC makers can offer machines that pack four microprocessor cores under the hood, allowing consumers to simultaneously run multiple powerful and resource-hungry applications, such as video games and digital video editing software.

The 4x4, officially dubbed the Quad FX Platform, essentially connects a pair of AMD's dual-core Athlon 64 FX microprocessors though a high-speed connection on a PC's motherboard.

That's not the same as a quad-core processor, in which all four cores are contained on a single chip.

AMD officials stressed that the 4x4 was not an attempt to field a quick answer to

Intel's

(INTC) - Get Report

recently released quad-core processor.

AMD's quad-core chip, code-named Barcelona, is not expected to be released until mid-2007.

The 4x4 is "not a processor story, it's a platform story," said Ian McNaughton, product marketing manager for AMD's Athlon 64 FX line.

Once AMD's quad-core chips come out next year for instance, McNaughton said, 4x4 will bring about PCs that pack eight processing cores in one system.

Even so, Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, said AMD had no choice but to come out with some kind of enthusiast product to match Intel this holiday season.

"If they hadn't done this, it would have been a bloodbath," Enderle said.

While Intel's quad core will appeal to the extreme high end of the gaming market, AMD's 4x4 could appeal to the mid- to high-end gamers, he said.

Indeed, AMD said it was pricing various flavors of the 4x4 package at under $1,000.

Among the first PC vendors slated to release 4x4-based machines are small system builders like

Vigor

and

Main Gear

.

Notably absent were top-tier PC makers like

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

. AMD's McNaughton said he couldn't comment on their product plans, and officials from Dell and H-P were not immediately available for comment.

Intel has turned to its massive manufacturing muscle to stay ahead of AMD, churning out chips with tinier circuitry at a rapid pace. On Monday, Intel said it has produced

the first samples of chips with transistors that are just 45 nanometers wide, a feat AMD isn't expected to accomplish until 2008.

AMD on the other hand, has sought to differentiate itself by unveiling innovative so-called platforms which leverage the power of various technologies such as graphics processing and the company's HyperTransport bus. In September, AMD

unveiled details on Torrenza, an architecture that allows other firms to make "co-processors" that work alongside AMD microprocessors.

The 4x4 appears to represent another page from that playbook.

"Given what they have to work with, it's an interesting way to use innovation," said Enderle.