This is more or less an add on to my Build Your Own Box From Scratch tutorial. A lot of time has passed and new technologies have emerged so I figured it was time for an update. However, so much has changed that this is fated to be a multi part tutorial and I've decided to start with the CPU. Please feel free to add any information you deem pertinant as I could well have overlooked some details although I tried not to.
And now, on to our featured presentation....
Ok, there has been a lot of advancement in the processor world lately with even more change coming down the pipes. For starters, AMD has for all accounts and purposes taken the lead in the speed race with its FX series processors. Intel got their dual core processors to market first, but AMD followed in fairly quick fashion with its own line of dual core CPUs. AMD enjoys the advantage of more thorough support from Microsoft in this arena as the Windows XP 64 bit Edition was developed around the AMD 64 architecture. Speaking of Microsoft, hereís a surprising little tidbit for you. Microsoft has in the past licensed their OS products on a ďper CPUĒ basis. In other words if your machine had two or more CPUs then you need to have two or more licenses. A dual core processor is basically two CPUs on a single chip but MS has chosen to price itís OSís that are on dual core systems the same way they price single CPU systems. I guess Bill figures that 90 billion is enough for now which is good news for everyone. That being said, letís break the processors into two parts, one for Intel and one for AMD with the caveat that we are discussing desktop processors. If I get into Itaniums, Xeons and Opterons my fingers will probably fall off.
Straight up, Iím pretty well leaving single core CPUs out as they are effectively now in the rear view mirror with the possible exception of the EE series for Intel and the FX series for AMD. Intelís first dual-core processor for the desktop was code-named Smithfield (now known as Pentium D) and based on 90nm process technology. In 2006 they plan to shift to the 65 nm process which should prove beneficial in terms of raw processor speed as it allows for more transistors on each chip and more chips per wafer. A wafer is the unit of silicon on which processors are ďetchedĒ. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of one meter or 1/10000th the width of a human hair. The ramifications this will have on power consumption and heat production are unclear at this time and should produce an interesting outcome. Recently it seems that Intel and AMD have switched positions as Intel chips now run hotter but cost less in the dual core arena. The D series comes in 820, 830 and 840 flavors and run in the 2.8 to 3.2 GHz range with an 800 MHz FSB. In other words Intel has conceded that GHz (GigaHertz) is no longer the standard by which performance is measured. The top of the line 840 EE (Extreme Edition) is priced at the same basic point as the entry level AMD 64x2 products.
Intel has, of course, integrated HT (Hyper-threading Technology) into itís D line as well as EDB (Execute Disable Bit), a command set that prevents buffer overrun exploits and serves to make the system as a whole inherently more secure (in theory). EM64T incorporation is what allows the support of 64 bit OSís and the addressing of memory beyond the four GB barrier. The D series also enjoys an L2 cache that is 2x1MB. Now hereís something else interestingÖdual core plus HT can equal FOUR logical cores! This is due to the fact that HT can in effect emulate a dual core system on a single core.
With all that said, please bear in mind that all these improvements will require the purchase of a new motherboard that uses either the 955X, 945P, 945G, or E7230 chipset and has the LGA775 socket. In other words you canít just drop one of these chips into an existing Intel system.
For the record let it be said that I keep a closer eye on AMD than I do Intel. Iíve always pulled for the underdog unless it involves the KY Wildcats basketball team and AMD has always been the underdog in the CPU world. However, itís possible that this will change in the future.
As previously mentioned, AMD and Microsoft collaborated on WinXP 64 which constitutes an advantage right out of the gate for AMD since WinXP 64 is based on the AMD64 command set. AMD also enjoys an advantage in that most socket 939 motherboards can accept a 64x2 CPU (dual core) with a simple BIOS upgrade. This helps cover some of the conversion expense if you already own an AMD64 system in that even though the AMD 64X2 processors cost more you donít have to buy a new motherboard IF you already own a socket 939. AMD also offers socket 754 for both 32 bit Sempron processors and 64 bit Athlon 64 processors, but this socket is also moving (albeit slowly) into the rearview mirror. At the end of Q3 2005 socket 754 Semprons will move to 64 bit and AMD will cease to produce 32 bit chips.
Now letís move to some more specifics in the dual core arena. AMD incorporates what is called NX (Non-eXecutable bit) to render areas of memory as non-executable in order to prevent buffer overflows, just like Intelís EDB. AMD also employs ďCool and QuietĒ technology that powers the CPU down or up in several stages according to the demands placed on it by the system. The entire AMD family will soon be based on only two cores. The Venice core will offer 512K L2 cache while the San Diego has 1 MB of L2. The clock speed will range from 1.8 GHz to 2.8 GHz. Now I realize that you all are looking at the glaring advantage that Intel has in terms of Cache size but bear with me. AMD CPUs have an onboard memory controller for dual DDR400 which makes a major contribution to AMDís advantage over Intel in performance. All other cores from Clawhammer to Winchester are being discontinued.
Looking down the road, AMD plans to begin supporting DDR2 memory as most forecasts predict DDR2 prices will drop as supply increases. Socket M2 will be introduced with 940 pins instead of 939. The M2 will consume the same amount of power as the 939 but will increase current. Heat dissipation requirements are estimated to remain the same. For comparative purposes, an AMD 64 system (939) consumes a max of 235 watts (including the graphics card and with Cool and Quiet disabled) while an Intel (Pentium D) system (including graphics card) consumes 350 watts. Intel systems should be very popular above the Arctic Circle.
I canít close without at least mentioning chipsets for the AMD systems. The choice is easyÖNFORCE4 from Nvidia is hands down the best choice for 939 based systems equipped with AGP or PCIe. As of this writing the Nforce chipset is the pinnacle and recently Nvidia has produced an Intel version for you Pentium fans.
Speaking of PCIe, that will probably come up in my next tut which will cover peripherals, SATA drives, motherboards and go a bit more in-depth concerning the pros and cons of various chipsets