Low-cost 64-bit computing

The 64-bit Sempron budget processor from AMD is now (or soon to be) available. According to reports from TipidPC, the chip has made its way to the local distributor, Asiantech (ATCC). Rising Sun Computers has the series on its price list on order basis.

Coupled with a Socket 754 board such as those based on NVidia’s nForce3 chipset , it should be possible to assemble a budget PC slightly more expensive than an equivalent Intel Celeron D + Socket 478 motherboard combination. (The socket number “754” or “478” is the number of pins connecting the processor to the motherboard. AMD units have it higher because their design put the memory controller on the processor, unlike the Intel designs which use a separate “Northbridge” chip for that function.)

The solution is still cheaper than AMD’s full processor (“Athlon64”). Intel’s 64-bit x86 chips, the Pentium 4 600 series, aren’t even widely available.

Why go 64-bit? At the moment, the typical application won’t benefit much since they compute using 32-bit values. A “bit” is a binary digit, a “0” or “1”, thus the fastest memory of the 32-bit machine, called the registers, can hold values up to around 4 Billion. A 64-bit machine on the other hand can work directly with numbers up to around 1.8 x 1019 – what do you call that, 1.8 billion billion? Business applications on your budget computer probably don’t need to do with that. Another benefit is the ability to address – or talk to – larger amounts of memory, which you won’t buy for your budget PC anyway. Or maybe you just want to try Windows 64-bit edition.

Another benefit over the Intel family is that AMD chips consume less electrical power (measured in watts) and thus produce less heat. The Sempron supports the AMD Cool N’ Quiet technology the AMD64 has, if it gets to work with a compatible motherboard. I’m told that it won’t lower your power bill – granted your PC has more power guzzling components – but it will lengthen the life of your processor.

The catch versus the Athlon64? One is the decreased L2 cache size. Level 2 cache is the high speed memory used to buffer slower DRAM. Budget CPU’s cut down on it, and high performance ones stock up on it. Another is the choice of socket. 754 was AMD’s first socket, but it was soon supplanted by 939 used by the mainstream AMD64, and a new one to follow. 754 does not support dual-core processors (two processors on a single chip).

So why buy one? I don’t know. I’d want one for the novelty factor, but my home workstation is still doing fine. One reason to buy it is that it replaces the old AMD Socket A that has served the company (and loyal users) for many years.

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  • robzon

    There’s a big difference between 32-bit and 64-bit mode. I just switched from my operating system from 32-bit Slackware to 64-bit Ubuntu and ogg encoding time dropped from 21.4sec to 14.4sec, that’s 33% speed boost! It’s really worth it.
    I’m using Athlon64, but I believe that the 64-bit boost is similar on Sempron64.

  • squatt3r

    Why go 64-bit? At the moment, the typical application won’t benefit much since they compute using 32-bit values. A “bit” is a binary digit, a “0″ or “1″, thus the fastest memory of the 32-bit machine, called the registers, can hold values up to around 4 Billion

    >>>sir when you say 32bit register machines its not correct that it can hold a value of up to 4Billion. A microprocessor has a floating point unit that holds integer or floating point values w/c would be more than 4Billion. I think what you’re saying is that a 32bit machine can only use up to 4Gigabytes of addressable space. 2 to the 32 is 4Gb.

  • I am speaking of the main integer registers used for the fundamental operations. SSE registers are 128-bit floating point numbers and have been around since the P-III.

    Update to this story:
    I’m not sure if S754 Sempron is such a good buy, because the local AMD distributor has slashed S939 prices. Athlon64 3000 is down to ~7,000 and Athlon X2 Dual-Core down to ~20,000.

  • bibbo

    32 bit applications “can” run on a 64bit operating system.. adobe creative suite runs on my vista ultimate x64 and most other x86 applications.. the time to switch between these infrastructures will not progress unless people discover the potentials of 64 bit OS