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Intel, AMD Prep Six-Core PC Chips

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The race to cram more processor cores into desktop systems continues with both Intel and AMD expected to introduce six-core processors for desktops by next year.

Intel’s (NASDAQ: INTC) six-core or “sexa-core” part is called Gulftown and is believed to be aimed at a release during the first half of 2010.

But Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) just might beat its larger rival to the punch with its own sexa-core chip, called “Thuban.”

AMD’s chip, first detailed on the enthusiast site X-Bit Labs, is believed to be a repackaging of the sexa-core Opteron known as “Istanbul.” That would mean L2 caches of 512KB and 6MB of L3 cache unifying the cores.

Such a product would continue AMD’s tradition in bringing out a desktop part derived from its server line. The company did the same thing with quad-core designs: First came Barcelona, albeit not on time, and then came Phenom a few months later — a near-identical take on Barcelona for the desktop. When AMD later released the 45nm Shanghai quad-core Opteron, the 45nm quad-core Phenom II followed.

As a result and according to the rumors, Thuban would now be poised to follow Istanbul. The remaining question is whether it will be a part of the company’s Dragon platform or a new one, codenamed Leo.

The name “Thuban” comes from a star in the constellation Draconis, or Dragon. That also happens to be the name for AMD’s current desktop architecture that combines CPU, chipset and graphics. However, AMD’s Leo platform is believed to include a new graphics chipset and faster serial ATA ports — but isn’t due until next May, according to X-Bit Labs.

An AMD spokesman declined to address the Thuban rumor directly.

“Clearly our full six-core processor lineup is well positioned in the server market, and we’re constantly evaluating platform solutions to deliver maximum value to our customers,” he said in an e-mail to

He added that AMD plans to update its public product roadmap “a little later this year.”

Given AMD’s track record, not to mention the fact that there hasn’t been a single-socket server part announced for the sexa-core Opteron, Thuban’s likelihood sounds like “a no-brainer” to Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight 64.

Usually, AMD has a single-socket server part that is identical to its desktop part. It had Budapest as a companion to Barcelona for low-end servers that only needed one CPU, and Suzuka was the single-socket version of Shanghai. It was the same chip — the only difference was that Barcelona and Shanghai went into Socket 1207 designs, used in servers, while Budapest and Suzuka went into AM2/AM3 socket designs used in desktops.

Brookwood figures AMD will do the same with Istanbul and Thuban.

“Basically, taking Istanbul, putting it in a desktop socket for the low-end Opteron line makes sense, and they might as well have it for the desktop client space as well,” he said. “There are not going to be many people who need a six-core desktop, but there will be some, and if you have the app mix that can gain from six cores, why not?”

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