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We take a close look at an AMD 4x4 box

Yes, we took pictures
Sat Nov 04 2006, 08:31
I GOT A CLOSE look at a running 4x4 system in Austin last week, and it was quite an interesting beast. There was nothing new in the spec department, but there are a lot of details I wasn't aware of, and the philosophy came into a little sharper focus.

The system was doing quite a lot, more than any sane player would ever do. It was running a Dell 30 inch monitor with two copies of City of Heroes, two HD movies looping, and one HD movie encoding. AMD touts the platform as a workstation, and it does appear to be one in the classic sense.


Gaming is traditionally about having the fastest CPU you can have, and currently that is Conroe. AMD won't beat Conroe until the Rev H cores come out, and even it might not do it core for core. 4x4 is about doing things more smoothly, and having a lot of things flying around in different ways, basically a traditional workstation workload.

As you can see from the above, it will do that quite nicely. Once it comes out, the most interesting test will be running Kentsfield on the same tasks and see how well it performs. If I had to pick a winner right now, I would guess that Kentsfield will take the gaming crown, but lose as the app count climbs because of bus and memory contention. It is going to be one heck of an interesting match up.


The technical side is a bit more interesting. It is basically an Opteron 22xx system with the need for registered memory removed, and all sorts of BIOS tweaks that make enthusiasts drool. The ones seen so far have two CPU sockets, four PCIe 16x slots (2x 16 and 2x 8 electrically) giving you four cores and four GPUs.

If you look above, you can see the memory and the heat pipe block for one of the chipset components, probably the memory controller. Below there is the real guts of the system, the dual north bridges. You can see one heat pipe block exposed and the edge of the second under the top GPU.

Both of these lead to a large copper hear sink between GPU1 and one of the CPUs. This has an angled fan mounted on the top blowing right across it. This machine was not lacking in cooling, which bodes well for the overclocking set. The kilowatt PSU also screams overhead to me.


One frequent criticism of the whole 4x4 concept is power use and heat. Power use is a concern, but will that really be a problem for the buyer of a $1000+ CPU with two $600 GPUs and high end parts to go with it? A $4,000 plus PC is not something that people worried about $5 more in electricity a month end up buying.

Heat is another factor, and one that I can comment on directly. 4X4 will take more power than a Kentsfield XE, probably 100W or so. This is not too bad, with two or four 150W GPUs, memory, HDs and mobo overhead, not to mention PSU inefficiencies, 100W is not a killer.

The 4x4 box seems to be built to push that heat out without melting the screws holding the mobo down, so that is a plus. The case fan on the cover was loafing along at a low speed as well - there was no wind tunnel effect here. The most important thing was the fan on the PSU, it was blowing warm, but just warm. The whole system was quiet, the fans were not on overdrive, and you could not roast marshmallows on the exhaust.

It looks to me like for any decently made 4x4 box, heat in the case won't be a big problem. The bigger question of 'is it for you, or do you want a Kentsfield?' is still up in the air. Stay tuned for that, that is by no means decided. µ


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