Things are looking up for AMD. We're out in Austin, Texas this week for a preview of the upcoming 45nm Phenom II processor. While we're not allowed to divulge full details of the new chip, we can reveal it has massive overclocking headroom.
Yesterday, AMD demoed its new quad-core processor, due out in early January, with a range of cooling solutions. Air, water, phase change and even liquid nitrogen were on the menu.
Courtesy of air cooling, the Phenom II is good for around 4GHz – that's approximately 800MHz more than AMD's existing 65nm Phenom CPU. Up the ante to phase-change tech and you're looking at 5GHz.
But the really spectacular stuff was reserved for the liquid nitrogen demo. Again, AMD has asked us not to reveal the precise speed the chip reached, but we can say it was well in excess of 5GHz.
OK, keeping an insulated flask of liquid nitrogen constantly topped up is hardly a practical day-to-day computing solution. But the speeds achieved speak volumes about the fundamental strength of the new 45nm architecture. Phenom II really flies.
The Dragon's heart
Other info AMD is happy for us to dole out includes the fact that Phenom II will form the heart of the new Dragon platform. It's the follow up to the Spider platform that launched with the first 65nm Phenom CPUs last year.
But this time round, the much improved CPU combined with AMD's fantastic Radeon HD 4800 series graphics chips makes Dragon a much more attractive overall proposition. AMD also hinted that the power efficiency of the new 45nm architecture is a spectacular step forward over its leaky, power hungry 65nm chips. Again, we'll have to wait until the January launch to give you more details.
Ex-streamly fast video encoding
Finally, AMD revisited its upcoming Stream computing initiative. Essentially analogous to Nvidia's CUDA platform, the idea is to use the massive parallel computing performance of AMD graphics chips to do general processing tasks.
AMD demonstrated a new video encoding utility on a mid-range Radeon HD 4670 GPU transcoding 720p content for use on a Sony PSP portable console. Conveniently, AMD also had a comparison PC running the same work load purely on the CPU and powered by the new Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition.
Needless to say, the Radeon card was over twice as fast.
And remember, that's just what a mid-range Radeon HD 4670 is capable of. The Radeon HD 4800 series boasts over twice as many stream processors. AMD promises the new utility will be made available for free to all Radeon HD 4800 series owners with its next driver drop in mid December.
Opteron by another name?
If you want to know more about Phenom II, point your browser at our recent 45nm Opteron review. For the most part Phenom II is identical to the new Opterons. That means it's largely a die shrink of the troubled 65nm Phenom, but with several important fixes and one helluva a lot more frequency headroom.
Still, despite the new chip's overclocking prowess, it won't outperform Intel's awesome new Core i7 CPU. Even AMD admits that. But what it will do is give AMD an extremely competitive chip for the meat of the mid-range market – what AMD calls the $1,000 PC. With global economic recession on the cards, having the best value proposition on the market would be no bad thing.