The Sudden Death of Single-Core
by William Van Winkle
Reseller Advocate Magazine (www.reselleradvocate.com)
(Excerpted from: RAMpage 51)
In major technology transitions, a lot of business gets lost. We've all worked with customers who've said, "Yeah, this is a good deal, but I know XYZ is coming soon, so I think I'll just wait a bit." Nobody makes money while people wait.
Unfortunately, the pattern with tech advances is that the new stuff debuts at the high-end, up where only a relatively few people buy. Vendors get to make high margin and recoup some of their R&D, but the mainstream continues to buy the old technology, and so the transition drags on for a long while, while a lot of prospective customers stuck in the middle decide to wait.
This week, Intel got smart and decided to abbreviate the dual-core transition process. As I write this, the least expensive dual-core Pentium chip I can find on Newegg is the Smithfield-based Pentium D 820 (2.8 GHz) for $243. (Over on the AMD side, the lowest-end Athlon 64 X2 to be found is the 3800+ (2.0 GHz) for $296.) For single-core, the 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 521 sells for $188. A $55 CPU price delta is still a formidable consideration for a mainstream buyer, particularly in a multiple-purchase corporate environment.
Enter the just released Pentium D 805, a Smithfield-based 2.66 GHz part with an 800-family cache structure (2 x 1MB L2). The 805 is expected to be available through distribution at sub-$150 pricing. There, at one stroke, goes the entire single-core mainstream market. At this pricing, why would anyone not buy a dual-core CPU?
There's one reason, and let's be up front about it. The Pentium D 800 series uses an 800 MHz front-side bus. The 805 uses a 533 MHz FSB. No doubt, some sources will attack this as a neutering of the chip or some such thing. But the reality is that mainstream usage models are moving to favor multi-threaded processing more and more. Who doesn't keep at least a handful of apps open all the time? Think of encoding a video while playing a game. This is family level stuff, and 2006 will be the year that major applications optimize for multi-thread. I haven't received an 805 to benchmark yet, but my gut feeling is that in a multi-thread or multi-tasking situation, 2.8 GHz dual-core on a 533 MHz bus will outperform 2.8 GHz single-core on an 800 MHz bus. And this superior performance will now be had for less money with far greater future-proofing built in. Naturally, the 533 MHz bus also helps insulate the rest of the 800 and 900 CPU lines and keeps reseller ASP erosion at bay. The 805 will help win new business, not cannibalize higher-end sales.
"The purpose of the 805 is to drive dual-core technology into mainstream-value pricing, which it will do," says Intel's Todd Garrigues, North America channel marketing manager for boxed products. "Even with a 533 MHz FSB, the 805 is still a very strong performer and will enable broad channel efforts to drive dual-core volumes across various verticals. Overall, I think it will be incredibly exciting for our market."
Perhaps best of all, the 805 will launch this week with channel-only availability. This is another indication of Intel's serious commitment to bolstering its channel business from here forward. I've seen indications of this on the whitebook side, but this is a clear case of Intel demonstrating its recognition that system builders need help on the desktop, too, and providing tools to better help them compete.
If you haven't yet set up an arrangement in which you can demonstrate the benefits of dual-core to customers, this would be the time to do it. Once again, you have a window of opportunity in which to ace out the tier-one boxes. Live, real-time illustrations with applications mainstream users can appreciate run in a single- vs. dual-core side-by-side will speak volumes once people see the similarity in price. The 805 can open a door for your operation. Make sure you see what's on the other side.
William Van Winkle, technical editor, Reseller Advocate Magazine (firstname.lastname@example.org)