For as long as AMD had fought Socket Wars with Intel, the company kept the mantra of cross-socket compatibility. In reality, the company would break compatibility not just in order to switch to a new technology (DDR2 to DDR3 in case of AM2 and AM3), but also introduce incompatible steps such as AM2+ and now, with the upcoming AM3+. We talked to AMD on numerous occasions about the upgradeability of AM3 platform and it was explicitly mentioned that both the old Bulldozer CPU architecture (canceled way back) and the new Bulldozer CPU architecture would be compatible with existing platforms (AM2/AM3).

Motherboard makers have repeatedly touted their existing AM3 products will be AM3+ readyCompanies in AMD’s ecosystem, such as ASUS, GigaByte and MSI backed up those expectations with their own statements that they will be able to support AMD FX CPUs via simple BIOS update. However in August 2010 and most recently on CeBIT 2011, AMD explicitly stated the opposite:

"When we initially set out on the path to Bulldozer we were hoping for AM3 compatibility, but further along the process we realized that we had a choice to make based on some of the features that we wanted to bring with Bulldozer. We could either provide AM3 support and lose some of the capabilities of the new Bulldozer architecture or, we could choose the AM3+ socket which would allow the Bulldozer-base Zambezi to have greater performance and capability."

The statement continued with a mixed attitude:

"When we looked at the market for AM3 upgrades, it was clear that the folks most interested in an AM3-based product were the enthusiasts. This is one set of customers that we know are not willing to settle for second best when it comes to performance, so we definitely needed to ensure that our new architecture would meet their demanding needs, for both high performance and overclockability. We believe they will see that in AM3+."

The problem with statements such as these is that they were opposite of what companies in AMD ecosystem were preparing for, and our sources close to Taiwan companies again expressed their disappointment at the attitude shown by AMD’s management, as well as counter-attitude of "AMD only makes X to XX percent of our overall production anyways, so if they don’t care about their own customers – we do."

ASUS breaks from official AMD stance and announces upgradeability option for current and future AM3/AM3+ motherboards
ASUS breaks from official AMD stance and announces upgradeability option for current and future AM3/AM3+ motherboards

Having said that, our sources informed us that there will be an answer coming out of Taiwan. And indeed, ASUS is the first company to challenge AMD’s official statement with a claim that the company will enable AM3+ CPU support on older AM3 mainboards (based on AMD chipsets) via a simple BIOS update. On the "We’re AM3 PLUS Ready" website, there is a lists of ASUS mainboards which received the AM3+ upgrade via a simple BIOS update (rev 3012). Among the list are popular high-end mainboards like the Crosshair IV series. This news comes as a godsend for users who hoped to be able to upgrade their AMD system with the upcoming CPU from AMD.

ASUS also lists no less than ten different mainboards they plan to release for socket AM3+. Six of these are even based on the two-year old AMD 760G chipset. While ASUS claimed only 8-series chipsets will get BIOS updates for Bulldozer that leaves some hope for 7-series chipset based mainboard owners. The other models employ 880G and 870G chipsets, so we can conclude all these models feature integrated graphics. Thus it seems ASUS will continue to use the true and tried AM3 mainboards and just adds the small changes to manufacture the new AM3+ platform.

The new statements of ASUS contradict a statement issued to various press by AMD in August 2010. Back then AMD argued that the support of the AM3 platform would result in the removal of certain features they wanted to bring with the introduction of Bulldozer (which were not named). At this point it is unclear whether a Bulldozer CPU suffers from reduced functionality when used on one of the ASUS mainboards which are claimed to get a BIOS update for AM3+.

The original statement issued by AMD reads as follows:

"When we initially set out on the path to Bulldozer we were hoping for AM3 compatibility, but further along the process we realized that we had a choice to make based on some of the features that we wanted to bring with Bulldozer. We could either provide AM3 support and lose some of the capabilities of the new Bulldozer architecture or, we could choose the AM3+ socket which would allow the Bulldozer-base Zambezi to have greater performance and capability.

The majority of the computer buying public will not upgrade their processors, but enthusiasts do. When we did the analysis it was clear that the customers who were most likely to upgrade an AM3 motherboard to a Bulldozer would want the features and capability that would only be delivered in the new AM3+ sockets. A classic Catch-22.

Why not do both you ask? Just make a second model that only works in AM3? First, because that would greatly increase the cost and infrastructure of bringing the product to market, which would drive up the cost of the product (for both AMD and its partners). Secondly, adding an additional product would double the time involved in many of the development steps.

So in the end, delivering an AM3 capability would bring you a less featured product that was more expensive and later to market. Instead we chose the path of the AM3+ socket, which is a path that we hope will bring you a better priced product, with greater performance and more features – on time.

When we looked at the market for AM3 upgrades, it was clear that the folks most interested in an AM3-based product were the enthusiasts. This is one set of customers that we know are not willing to settle for second best when it comes to performance, so we definitely needed to ensure that our new architecture would meet their demanding needs, for both high performance and overclockability. We believe they will see that in AM3+."

Obviously, mainboard manufacturers had different plans than the CPU maker. We’ll leave you with a open comment box – we’d love to hear your opinion who’s right in this debate.