Discounted AMD dual-cores flirt with Intel price/performance, except FX-62

Sunnyvale (CA) – Street prices for the bottom three of AMD’s five dual-core processors remaining in production fell near or below the numbers projected by the modified price/performance curve set by their Intel counterparts, based on the latest data from PriceGrabber and Froogle. However, street prices for the two Socket AM2 processors at the top of the line – the Athlon FX-62 and the Athlon 64 X2 5000+ – remain well above the curve.

In a six-day period, street prices – what customers are actually paying – for Socket 939-based AMD Athlon 62 X2 processors fell by historic amounts, with Athlon 64 X2 4600+ selling for $254, which is 55.7% below its average selling price just last Tuesday. The 3800+ is currently selling for $141 on average, which is 52% below last Tuesday’s price; and the 4200+ is selling for $198 on average, a drop of 44.8%.

CORRECTION: Some of our readers rightly pointed out that an earlier version of this chart showed price flux, while we described it as an amount of discount. If something were truly discounted more than 100%, they stated quite accurately, it would be free. Today, this reporter promises to use a stronger brand of coffee before double-checking descriptions.

These drops place scatters the price/performance points for these three processors well within the vicinity of our projected Intel curve, based on updated data. The 4600+ sells for about $7.50 above where our model places the curve, which is a difference negligible enough to perhaps be counted out. The 3800+ sells for $53.90 less than the Intel curve, making it the price/performance leader at present against the nearest Intel competitor, the Pentium D 930. (Prices surveyed are for standard wattage, not AMD’s low-wattage alternatives which sell for slightly more.)

Other trends weighing in AMD’s favor today include a slight rise in prices for Intel’s top-of-the-line Core 2 Duos and Core 2 Extreme, at the end of the pre-order period. PriceGrabber recorded the first prices paid by consumers for Core 2 Extreme, as of Monday morning, at $1,160, which reflects a 16% markup over the “tray” price – which distributors pay for 1,000-unit quantities – of $999. Last Tuesday, the average asking price for Core 2 Extreme pre-orders, according to data from Froogle, was $1,072. But there are some price bumps on the low end of dual-core as well, including an 18.6% rise in the average selling price of Pentium D 830.

Yet spoiling what might otherwise have been an AMD victory today are the two products in the Socket AM2 category. While Athlon 64 X2 5000+ street prices have fallen over 40% since Tuesday, the $497 average selling price remains well above the $312 distributor price. This could reflect the fact that many units purchased weeks earlier remain in inventory. The 5000+ would only need to fall below $361.81, based on our updated data, for it to fall in line with the Intel curve.

The big spoiler, however, is the FX-62, AMD’s performance leader in advance of its “4×4” platform announcement, which the company still targets for “the second half of this year,” according to an AMD spokesperson today. Street prices have fallen since last Tuesday by only 18.6%, to $872. The unit would need to sell for $432.16, based on updated data, to meet Intel’s price/performance curve.

AMD’s overall performance isn’t helped by the fact that some of the models that are apparently being discontinued, due to general attrition, are selling for slightly more than even yesterday. The FX-60, for example, is selling for an average price of $876 – strangely, four dollars more than for the FX-62. Meanwhile, the 4400+ is selling for $461, while astoundingly, the 4800+ – a 21% better performing processor, by our estimate – is selling for $368. Again, these are street prices (with the Internet counting as a “street”), not AMD suggested prices. In fact, the 4800+ could be the big bargain for price conscious system builders over the next few weeks. CPUs with high selling prices are very likely selling in low volume.

On the next page, you’ll see AMD’s strengths and weaknesses depicted on some very telling charts.

AMD dips below the curve, where it’s safe to do so

This update of our price/performance curve chart from last Thursday tells the complete story: The green dotted trend line depicts AMD’s relative price/performance curve last Tuesday, just before the time news of its price cuts were widely disseminated. The blue dotted trend line shows Intel’s current price/performance curve. The performance portion of the numbers are based on a mathematical model using Tom’s Hardware Guide benchmarks in five workload categories, on the various dual-core processors. Sales prices were supplied by PriceGrabber, except for pre-order prices on Intel’s high-end processors prior to their official release last week – data there was supplied by Froogle.

The gap between the green and blue trend lines shows just how much AMD’s trend line would need to travel in one week’s time. Generally, that’s an impossible interval. The red trend line shows how far AMD’s price cuts go toward bridging that gap. The “camel humps,” so to speak, are unfortunate anomalies caused by the discontinued AMD processors whose selling prices just won’t go down. When you look at the chart from this distance, it doesn’t look like AMD made the grade, so to speak.

But when you zoom in, you find out how the FX-62 spoils the curve, and without it, how well AMD actually did on its lower-priced, established models. The three processors labeled in this chart have price/performance indices that do indeed fall at or below Intel’s blue curve. If it weren’t for FX-62 dragging the curve upward, the midpoint of the red trend line might be lower still. If Athlon 64 X2 5000+ street prices continue to fall toward the new tray price, which we believe to be $312, then AMD may end up with only one processor outside the Intel curve – in other words, count out the FX-62, and AMD would clearly be keeping its promises.

AMD may not be able to afford to slash FX-62 prices further for the time being; it may need to maintain some sort of premium, if only an artificial one, as a stopgap prior to the release of its new processor architecture, code-named “4×4.” Conceivably at that time – although AMD has not confirmed this – it could make one more cut to FX-62 prices at that time, in effect rounding out the curve, and helping it restake its claim to the price/performance crown. But this can only happen if 4×4 substantively outperforms Core Microarchitecture. We’re told AMD demonstrated 4×4 in a closed meeting with prospective partners and dealers, this afternoon in San Francisco. We’ll be listening for any word that emerges from that meeting.