I was fairly surprised with Intel’s Pentium Extreme Edition 955. It wasn’t because the chip bore a confusing name (955? Are we talking processors or chipsets here?) or that it encountered some still-unresolved thermal issues on my open test bench. Rather, I was surprised that the chip, once it was running stable, delivered some rather impressive performance gains versus its predecessor. Maybe it was the front side bus. Perhaps the two larger L2 caches helped out. Either way, Intel made up some of the slack let loose in shifting from a stubborn single-core architecture to a detuned dual-core design.
Not that the Extreme Edition 955 completely caught up or anything. It certainly rocked a couple of synthetic benchmarks and Windows Media Encoder 9. But as far as gaming was concerned, AMD’s FX-57 continued landing its blows.
There was one notable exception—Quake 4, recently patched to take advantage of multi-core hardware. The patch was born out of an effort between id and Intel, so the results there might not necessarily be fair. But that’s how the game is played, folks. Intel has shown a real dedication to helping developers enable software with threaded optimizations, while AMD has more publicly evangelized 64-bit technology. Thus, Intel’s Extreme edition 955 performed predictably well.
But long before Intel announced the new Extreme Edition and even before we had run the threaded Quake 4 patch through its paces, AMD had already made the executive decision to start shifting the gamer-oriented Athlon 64 FX to a dual-core configuration. A recent discussion with AMD representatives at CES in sunny Las Vegas helped clarify the company’s position.
According to AMD, we’re at an inflection point where games such as Quake 4 and Call of Duty 2 are being optimized for multiple cores, right alongside the content creation and productivity applications. Seeing as though the FX lineup is the one associated with gaming, it’s apparently apropos to complement a slowly growing cadre of titles with a gaming processor to match. It’ll naturally take years before all games get the same treatment, whether through a patch or via ground-up development. But AMD wants to be there from the outset, giving gamers one more choice when it comes to choosing a solid CPU backbone.
Therein lays the justification for AMD’s new Athlon 64 FX-60, the first dual-core model to bear an FX designation. Is the honor necessarily deserved? That’s a subjective call you’ll have to make based on specification-level compromises and benchmark results.