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By: Stephen 'WaterDog' Waits [05.01.01]

May 1, 2001 - AMD

Another week, another bitch. This time it's AMD that's yanking at the waistband of my underwear, but how can that be? Isn't AMD the darling of PC enthusiasts everywhere? Well, they are, sort of, but at the same time they're beginning to exhibit some disturbing traits that I'm not about to sit here and take without a little bit of ranting.

Clock for clock, and even against chips with more MHz, AMD consistently beats Intel when it comes to performance and price. Price and performance, well that's really all you need for a good chip isn't it? That alone has made AMD the best choice for the do-it-yourself geek wanting a killer system at an even better price. AMD hasn't shackled us with Rambus, and while their DDR implementations don't meet the theoretical gains with current processors, only Intel's P4 seems to really be optimized for gobs of memory bandwidth. This all sounds pretty good so far, so what am I bitching about? Well, the events of the last week, and really the last several months, have left me feeling cheated. I trusted AMD, I was a hardened Intel fanboy, and I even started to *like* AMD, and now they've gone and ruined it all.

760MP where art thou?

I remember about a year ago, when dual Celerons were all the rage, the BP6 was a geek's wet dream, and AMD multiprocessor support was coming out 'soon.' Here we are, a year later, and we've still got at least a few months to go before we see a multiprocessor AMD solution on shelves. Granted AMD changed its tune for the release date of its first SMP chipset, the 760MP, long ago and has been saying Spring 2001 for quite some time, but they're still horribly late. In a time when the only real SMP option is a dual PIII, prohibitive not only because of a limited upgrade path, but also the PIII's price and performance, the market sorely needs a strong showing from SMP AMD.

"The 760MP has been delayed for a while, maybe for a really solid system you need that new core in there for your processors..."

Ok, so we will be seeing the 760MP shortly, well I should at least be happy about that shouldn't I? Not exactly, see the 760MP comes with some very unattractive baggage, baggage that's going to make it hard to carry, at least in the enthusiast space.

First of all, the 760MP now only officially supports SMP for the newer Athlon cores, namely the Palomino and Morgan (Thunderbird and Duron replacements). Ok, now I'm not all that impressed with this because a lot of people out there aren't going to be able to take their current Athlon system and upgrade it by simply buying a motherboard and one new chip. Note that this is only the official word from AMD though, as dual Thunderbirds have been running up on Tyan's new 760MP board (actually, review units were shipped out with Thunderbirds and AMD has had to run around replacing these with Palominos).

AMD could be doing this for a couple of reasons, to speed the uptake of its newer cores into the market, to differentiate between the cores for pricing purposes, or maybe they've found problems with the current cores in SMP implementations that makes them less than stable. Think about it, the 760MP has been delayed for a while, maybe for a really solid system you need that new core in there for your processors. In this case you're going to have to buy into the new AMD processors for an officially supported AMD system. Now we all remember the original Celerons and their SMP pseudo support - they weren't officially supported by Intel, but they still worked. This could be essentially what AMD is doing, and there could be no problem, but that doesn't mean I'm done bitching.

The second problem with AMD's 760MP is going to be its price. As it stands, the first 760MP board to come to the market will be from Tyan, and when it's all said and done, it's going to cost you about a grand. That's right, four figures. So much for being a price/performance leader.

So why is the Tyan board so expensive? Well it's got all sorts of SCSI goodness on it, and is really a high end server/workstation board, Tyan doesn't exactly come cheap either. But other boards will surely come to market right? Sure they will, but it appears that AMD has forsaken the enthusiast crowd in favour of the higher margins in the high-end space, and we're not likely to see any 760MP-based boards dipping below the $400. Not that the 760MP isn't worth every penny, I'm sure on some level it is, the point here is that it leaves much of the enthusiast crowd to pawn their possessions (ok, so it's not *that* expensive, but you get the point), just to get their hands on a board. Let's also remember that while Tyan's board will be in the channel shortly, other 760MP-based boards are a while off yet as well.

No matter how appealing dual Durons (even with Morgan cores) sounds, you're going to have to pony up big dollars for a board, and you're probably going to have to wait a while too. When the venerable BP6 came out it was damn cheap compared to other dual processor solutions. It was a pure enthusiast's board, only marginally more expensive than single processor boards, and that's what made it so great. It's going to be several months at least before we even see dual AMD boards that come in at triple the price of a single processor board, so don't hold your breath. Unless Via steps up with a more budget-oriented SMP chipset for the Athlon, AMD SMP will be limited to high end boards and those with fat wallets or internal organs to sell.

I have no doubt that AMD will continue to support the single processor enthusiast market with great chips at even better prices, but they've given the dual processor freaks among us the shaft with the 760MP. Sure Via could come along with a dual Athlon solution, or maybe even ALI, but if it took AMD this long to get the 760MP out the door, it could take others forever to get a SMP-enabled chipset to market.

A disturbing trend

They've won the war in the single processor budget world, even the single processor high end world, but it seems that AMD seems to be devoting far too much attention to the high end market. While the 760MP only being in high end workstation and server boards is certainly a good example of this, AMD's Hammer line of 64-bit processors is a clear push for the high end corporate world. Of course these processors have just been delayed half a year, something that I'm used to seeing Intel do with its corporate solutions, not AMD.

We all know that margins are much higher when it comes to high-end servers and workstations, and maybe there's more of an ego boost as well, but if AMD is going to push hard for the high end, I can see the enthusiast market suffering as a result. AMD has done really well in the price/performance realm, an area with admittedly low margins given the current price wars, and yet they don't seem content with us. Perhaps they've got green-tinted glasses now, or maybe this is a big ego thing, maybe they want to trump Intel's upcoming Foster, Jackson, and Itanic processors, I just hope they don't do it at the expense of the enthusiast crowd.

AMD's gotten big over the last few years, they're branching out, and while they haven't deserted the market that gave them credibility, it looks like we're becoming less of a priority. Maybe I was looking forward to a screaming fast, and cheap, dual Duron rig too much, and now I'm bitter. Maybe I don't like how they appear to be focussing too much on the high end corporate world just like Intel does. Maybe I don't like seeing them making out with a previous Bitch in Nvidia, and the new Crush chipset. Maybe I whine too much. 

Nah, AMD has screwed the enthusiast market with the 760MP. Dual Durons might be all you can afford after buying into a 760MP board, and that's hoping there isn't a real problem with using the current Athlon cores in SMP. Once the much-loved underdog, AMD is now a Bitch.

A thread and poll have been started in the forum on this topic, join the discussion!

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