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What is an AMD Processor?

By Robert Grimmick
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) processor is a computer processor designed or manufactured by AMD, an American semiconductor and technology company. AMD primarily produces central processing units (CPUs) intended to compete against offerings from its much larger rival Intel®. An AMD processor can be used with the same software as an Intel® processor, but not the same motherboard. A new generation of AMD processor also aims to combine a CPU and graphics processor into a single chip.

Modern processors from both Intel® and AMD can trace their lineage to the Intel® 8086, a CPU used in the original IBM® PC. The set of instructions and commands that software programs passed to the 8086 CPU became a standard for the PC industry. This set of instructions, known today as the x86 instruction set, is supported by virtually all computer operating systems and CPUs found in PCs. This means an AMD processor can be used with the same software as an Intel® processor, because both were designed to be compatible with the x86 instruction set.

While all x86 CPUs must support the same basic set of instructions, the physical design of the processor and layout of its millions of transistors, known as microarchitecture, can vary. An AMD processor was once nothing but a cloned version of the Intel® microarchitecture, but since 1996 the company has used its own designs. With these new designs came new physical “sockets” that are used to transfer data between a computer motherboard and CPU. The socket on a motherboard must match that of the CPU, so a processor from one company can’t be used as a drop-in replacement for another company’s CPU.

Competition between AMD and Intel® has been fierce, and each company has its own group of die-hard fans. Until the turn of the century, the latter's competitors had mostly produced low-cost processors that lacked the performance of CPUs from the market leader. In late 1999, the AMD Athlon™ processor was launched and, to the surprise of many, outperformed all of the Intel® offerings at a lower price. Since then, the two companies have traded market share, lawsuits, and bragging rights for the highest performing chips, but an AMD processor has generally been available for less than a comparable Intel® chip.

In the mid-2000s, AMD made some major changes to its business practices in order to stay competitive. The company spun off all of its manufacturing operations, choosing instead to focus on designing chips. In 2008, AMD bought ATI, a company which produced graphics processing units (GPUs) for gaming and 3D graphics. Following the purchase, AMD announced its intent to produce chips that combined the CPU and GPU into a single unit, a configuration that AMD calls an accelerated processing unit.

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