AMD launched a four-core chip platform for video gamers yesterday, continuing to battle Intel for buzz in the high-end 'enthusiast' segment.
AMD's '4x4' platform links two dual-core processors and two sockets in a single desktop PC, allowing gamers to take full advantage of multithreaded software, according to Patrick Moorhead, vice-president of marketing at AMD.
Hardcore gamers use multicore PCs to run an average of eight applications at once, toggling between digital content creation and processor-intensive games such as Call of Duty or Tony Hawk's American Wasteland.
Increasingly, they prefer games that are written in multithreaded software, able to divide computing tasks into parallel bundles and distribute them to various cores. Content developers such as Activision and NCsoft are feeding this trend, with more than 20 multithreaded games now in development.
But it remains a niche market. AMD and Intel continue to pour resources into building fast, expensive chips for the top two percent of desktop users, in the hope of generating a buzz that could translate to mainstream sales.
On 23 May, AMD launched the Athlon 64 FX-62 dual-core processor, a 90nm, 2.8GHz processor for the same segment. Specialist PC maker Alienware immediately announced it would use the chip in its Aurora line.
Gamers must pay for the extra speed. Pricing for the new AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 is $1,031 (about £550), compared with $696 (£375) for the company's other new top-shelf offering, the Athlon 64 X2 (both priced for quantities of 1,000).
Intel is aiming for those same users with its Core2 Extreme processor, a 65nm design that runs at 2.93GHz. Intel plans to boost the chip to 3.2GHz by the end of 2006.
The extra effort is worthwhile despite the small sales volumes, the firms say.
"The FX processor costs about $1,000, but they are glad to pay to be the first on the block to own one as a status symbol, so they can play City of Villains while doing IRC [internet relay chat]," Moorhead said. "These enthusiasts are adopting new usage models that mainstreamers will adopt in a few years; we learn a lot from them."
AMD could also tap into the larger market of 'wannabe enthusiasts', a pool of up to five million gamers who don't build their own systems but buy preassembled systems from niche PC vendors such as Dell's Alienware and CyberPower.