We also feel comfortable saying that, from a strictly fanboy perspective, it's pretty awesome.
The Spider release will coincide with AMD's launch of its Phenom quad-core desktop processor. That's no accident, as the platform was built to integrate Phenom with a new series of GPUs and chipsets from ATI that will be released alongside the new CPU. AMD acquired the maker of graphic processors, chipsets and video display cards last October.
Oh, and one quick note, in case you missed it -- Phenom isn't a codename. It's the name of the new brand AMD is launching with these quad-core chips.
Phenom's specs are impressive. It will come as no surprise that the chip's "native" quad-core design bears desktop fruit similar to what AMD's recently-launched quad-core Opteron processor does for servers. We're talking energy efficiency, high floating points for memory-intensive applications and easy switch-a-roos from dual-core Athlons to the new quad-cores. Though it's a bit apples-and-oranges, it's also worth noting that the first Phenoms to hit the market will have higher clock speeds than the initial shipments of quad-core Opterons.
All very tasty, though AMD's stress on performance-per-watt for Phenom did strike us as a bit odd. It's one thing to highlight Opteron's energy efficiency for the data centers, but don't those crazy gamers actually get a kick out of burning through more fuel than necessary? AMD's response: True, gamers aren't the most power-stingy customers around, let alone the Greenest. But better energy efficiency is still a good sell, because it means fewer fans, which means more headroom in gaming shells for system builders to drop in more gear.
While Phenom will be available as a processor-in-a-box, and ATI's new products don't require a quad-core processor, by combining all that good stuff on an optimized platform, AMD banks on hitting the enthusiast and high-end home theater markets hard ahead of the holidays.
The new ATI gear fills a hole in AMD's DirectX 10-compatible Radeon line, in the $200 neighborhood. It will also support DirectX 10.1, when that multimedia/gaming interface update ships with the first Windows Vista Service Pack in January. Also look for boosts in ATI's PCI Express, CrossFire and AVIVO HD technology, as well as a brand new chipset family for Phenom called the AMD 700 series.
And overclockers have something to look forward to as well, thanks to a little surprise AMD has built into Spider.
Spider is already in the hands of some partners in AMD's system builder channel. When you get a chance to see it demoed, it's tough to wipe the silly grin off your face as the platform roars into action. Spider is geared towards gaming, and the way it handles lighting, angles and texture is all very impressive. This reporter's gaming tastes run to the vintage life-draining genre, but in the unlikely event a Spider platform was ever wasted on me, the world could very well see the most balls-to-the-wall game of Minesweeper ever played.
But playing games isn't the only thing Spider can do. It's also a great platform for building your own near-studio-quality graphics and videos. Take game and authoring tool developer Jules Urbach, inventor of the OTOY Web plug-in.
Urbach and his team have taken the Spider platform to some pretty incredible heights, creating short CGI spots around Sony Pictures properties like Spider-Man and the Transformers. The upshot: According to Urbach, the sort of richly detailed frames it takes the major CGI houses 40 hours and a server farm to render can be produced by his team on the Spider platform in what amounts to real-time.
In a word: Wow.
Urbach is described as a "populist" in a New York Times profile of his work in IM-based gaming. The stuff he's doing on Spider would seem to fit that description to a tee. Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves, but if YouTube gave citizen filmmakers a distribution outlet, could Urbach's authoring tools and desktop platforms like Spider give them their own personal CGI studios?
All hyperbole aside, the bottom line is that Spider looks to be quite the high-performance treat for system builders servicing the enthusiast crowd. But the standard question for AMD applies here -- if this thing takes off, are you going to have the inventory to fill orders?
The channel knows all too well that AMD has a track record of sometimes writing checks with its marketing arm that its fabs can't seem to cash, the Barcelona ramp-up being the latest example. AMD insists that its Spider platform is a channel-specific product and that it "will have shipped hundreds of thousands" of Phenom quad-cores by the end of the year.
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