In our opinion, when it comes to mindshare among gamers and hardware enthusiasts, AMD’s Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX is the unquestioned leader in performance. In a recent poll we conducted, 66% of you are currently using a processor manufactured by AMD compared to 34% for Intel. In comparison, four years ago only 40% of our readers were gaming on PCs based on AMD processors. We’re not the only ones who are favoring Athlon 64 processors in our reviews either, practically all online publications are unanimously in favor of Athlon 64 over Pentium 4 at the moment.
This success has won AMD a loyal following among the gaming community (especially the hardcore crowd), but hasn’t translated into huge market share gains for AMD. Sure, AMD has picked up a few points from Intel, but considering the adoption rate AMD is currently enjoying from the do-it-yourself crowd, you’d think their share would be even higher. Part of the reason AMD hasn’t been able to gain a sizeable chunk of the PC market is production. Quite simply, Intel has significantly more resources (read: Fabs) than AMD, allowing them to churn out millions more processors than AMD in a single quarter, not to mention an entire calendar year.
Another factor hurting AMD has been the price of their Athlon 64 processors. For months the least expensive Socket 939 chip was the Athlon 64 3500+, which was a $450+ chip for most of the summer. In the past two months AMD has released a slew of new less expensive Socket 939-based chips, and also introduced a value Sempron line in August, but these moves haven’t had a significant impact on AMD’s bottom line just yet.
The problem for AMD hasn’t just been directly tied to their processors, the Athlon 64 infrastructure plays just as big, if not a bigger role in AMD’s ability to gain share. Today’s Athlon 64 motherboards are still pretty pricey. Only recently have nForce3 motherboards hit the sub-$100 price point, but these are all Socket 754-based products, which may, or may not appeal to consumers and system integrators. VIA K8T800 Pro chipsets were buggy initially. OEMs buy systems in the massive bulk AMD needs to gain share on Intel, but with the lack of inexpensive motherboards AMD hasn’t received many design wins from Tier One players like Gateway and HP up to this point.
Part of the problem is a lack of a solid integrated chipset for the Athlon 64 platform. All of the top Athlon 64 chipsets are discrete products, meaning a system integrator not only has to incorporate the motherboard and memory in their designs, but also an external graphics card. On the Intel side there are a wealth of chipsets that feature built-in graphics capability manufactured by Intel, ATI, VIA, and SiS, giving system integrators and OEMs a wide variety of solutions to choose from. Since AMD doesn’t produce their own chipsets, they’ve been forced to rely on their chipset partners to provide a counter to this.
To date, none of AMD’s partners have been able to address this problem. Even NVIDIA, a company which significantly upped the ante for integrated graphics performance with the original nForce chipset has elected not to provide an integrated solution for their latest Athlon 64 chipset, nForce4.
Realizing the opportunity this has presented, ATI has been busily preparing their RADEON XPRESS chipset for the Athlon 64/Sempron platform. ATI has set out to create the world’s first PCI Express discrete and integrated chipsets, and have been shipping them to customers since October. But is XPRESS enough to make us forget about nForce4? Let’s find out!