AMD Athlon 4 – Desktop Palomino Core

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Athlon 4 – The Newest Athlon?

Well, I may be going out on a limb here, not only because AMD hasn’t announced the official name for the new Palomino core desktop version of the Athlon CPU, but also because I don’t actually even have one to test with. What I do have is an Athlon MP, the multiprocessor version, but it should (famous last words) be pretty much the same in both function and speed as the desktop version, with the exception of multiprocessor support. Why am I calling it the ‘Athlon 4’? Well there are a few reasons:

  1. AMD has already called the mobile version the ‘Mobile Athlon 4’ so it only makes sense
  2. The common name used in the industry has been Athlon 4, and
  3. When I installed the Athlon MP in a new Soyo K7V Dragon (one of the newest VIA KT266 DDR Socket A Mainboards) the BIOS identified the CPU as an Athlon 4 at boot. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

So what is the ‘new’ Palomino core and what does it offer you, the reseller or end user? Well on the reseller level it offers a number of important things. First, I would have to say it gives you a ‘new’ product to sell, and in this market slowdown the ability to stimulate sales may be the most important issue. Second, it will allow AMD to go to faster CPU clock speeds. The current non-NDA roadmap I have shows the Athlon (Thunderbird core) only going to 1.4GHz, but the Athlon 4 (Palomino) going from 1.3GHz to 1.6GHz. Faster clock speeds will also stimulate sales. Even though the Intel Pentium 4 has faster CPU speeds than the current Athlon, it does not appear (I say appear since I have not actually tested a P4) that the highest speed P4 is any faster (and may be slower) in most applications than the current Athlon. But consumers sometimes buy based upon CPU speed alone, so having a faster CPU speed will help a reseller in that area.

So what about the end user? Why would they either want to update to a new Athlon 4 or even buy it over an Intel P4? Well, higher CPU clock speeds will be a major factor if the market continues to be driven by pure CPU speed. Another reason is the enhancements that AMD has added to the CPU core. One of these is the update from Enhanced 3DNow! technology to 3DNow! Professional, which adds new instructions for 3D applications, including SSE. Along with that, AMD has added Data Prefetch instructions and enhanced TLB… all to improve overall system performance. AMD has also added PowerNow! support for power savings (more important in mobile applications) along with making changes that should lower current draw and heat output of the CPU. For more info take a look at the AMD white paper located here.

Will the Athlon 4 require a new Mainboard? AMD has stated that their goal is to have the new CPU work in existing Mainboards, so it should work with just a BIOS update. AMD lists the Athlon 4 starting at 1.3GHz and available in both 200 and 266MHz FSB speeds. 200 FSB support is listed for 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5GHz, while 266 FSB is listed for 1.33, 1.4, 1.533 and 1.6GHz. The Thunderbird core is only shown as going to 1.4GHz. It is interesting to note that the road map I have shows the Athlon 4 using a 1.8v core voltage setting, but the Athlon MP I used for testing was a 1.75v part. Although I’ve not seen it in writing, there have been reports that the newer Palomino core will support multipliers as high as 18x.

Another point to note is that AMD will change the packaging, starting with the 1.4GHz Athlon 4, to an OPGA package. Only the packaging of the CPU core will change, so it will still have the same pin-out and use the standard 462 pin Socket A we are all used to by now. This will result in a slightly lower CPU profile (0.3mm), but that should not affect the use of any current CPU coolers. Why the new packaging? AMD states the new OPGA package was developed to enable higher frequency processors by more efficiently transferring signals from the motherboard to the processor core. It will be interesting to see if the ‘bridges’ are still exposed for overclockers to play with. On other note from AMD, the packaging will come from a number of different vendors and there will be color variations, but they will be meaningless as to which is ‘better’ (remember the core color craze with the first Socket A Athlon’s?). Looks like AMD is also adding an internal CPU temp sensor (diode) for more accurate CPU temperature sensing and for use by PowerNow! technology.

That pretty much covers the changes. It will be an update or evolution of the Athlon K7 core, not a revolutionary change. But it looks like AMD is not sitting still and is continually updating the Athlon product line with newer enhanced technology, along with working up to higher CPU speeds. All that is needed to stay competitive in today’s market place.

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