New AMD quadcores are hexacores in disguise

Skinflint tweakers who get hold of one of AMD’s forthcoming Phenom II X4 chips could be in for a silicon surprise, as it looks as though you’ll be able to transform them into six-core CPUs.

Cast your minds back to earlier this month, when a leaked roadmap slide revealed the model names of AMD’s forthcoming Phenom II X6 CPUs. Grouped with the new six-core chips was a quad-core chip, the Phenom II X4 960T, and the word is that this is actually a six-core chip in disguise.

The guys at Silicon Madness claim to have spoken to industry sources who say that the quad-core chip will be based on the same core as the Phenom II X6, and that it’s “likely” that the disabled two cores will be unlockable. According to the site, the Phenom II X4 960T will be clocked at 3.3GHz. Meanwhile, another disguised six-core chip, the Phenom II X4 940T, will be clocked at 3GHz.

This all makes sense to us. If AMD’s gone to the trouble of creating a six-core design, then its production process will be much more efficient if it can also sell the six-core chips that didn’t quite make the grade. The company’s Phenom II X3 chips are basically X4 CPUs with one core disabled, and it’s highly likely that the Phenom II X4 T-series chips will also be six-core chips with two cores disabled.

Of course, AMD won’t be particularly happy about tinkerers getting a cut-price six-core chip. The company has already attempted to stop BIOS fiddlers from unlocking the fourth cores on Phenom II X3 chips by disabling ACC on its new 890GX chipset. However, motherboards such as Asus’ new M4A89GTD Pro already offer a way around this.

That said, while there’s a chance that you may be able to get a cut-price six-core CPU, there may well also be a reason why those two cores have been disabled. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting a trouble-free chip once you’ve unlocked it.

The price difference between the X4 and X6 CPUs will also have to be substantial if people are going to bother with the risk of unlocking.

The latest Steam Hardware Survey showed that less than one percent of Steam users had X3 CPUs, suggesting that most people are prepared to pay the extra few quid for a proper quad-core CPU. The same may well be true of six-core CPUs, depending on the price.