Advanced Micro Devices, looking to shed the problems associated with the rollout of its quad-core Opteron processor in 2007, has begun shipping its new chip-the 45-nanometer "Shanghai" microprocessor-to its OEM partners for an anticipated launch later in 2008.
In an interview, Pat Patla, the general manager of AMD's Server and Workstation group, said the company has learned its lessons from the failed rollout of the 65-nm, quad-core Opteron-formerly "Barcelona"-and is making amends with Shanghai. By the end of the fourth quarter of 2008, Patla said some of AMD's OEM partners will have new multisocket server systems ready to ship to customers.
AMD executives said they originally planned to bring the chip to market in the first half of 2009.
While Shanghai will feature a number of improvements, including what Patla called an overall 35 percent performance boost compared with the 65-nm chips, AMD has also gone out its way to ensure a much smoother rollout. This included getting the first of these chips into the hands of OEMs for testing and validation and making sure that the Shanghai project had one lead engineer for research and development-in this case, Raghuram Tupuri.
"We really learned from the engineering effort of Barcelona moving into Shanghai to make sure we never had the same kind of engineering challenges with bringing a product to market," Patla told eWEEK. "It was pretty well documented what went wrong with Barcelona and the engineering team from Shanghai really made sure that flawless execution was going to be one of the design goals for the Shanghai product."
While AMD's efforts to improve the processor's architecture and its rollout are important for the company as a whole, especially as it looks to regain its financial footing, the attention to detail is also meant to reassure customers who are looking at possibly buying Shanghai-based systems later in 2008 and have lingering concerns about AMD's ability to deliver a solid piece of silicon.
At the same time, AMD needs ensure a smooth Shanghai debut since Intel has already brought its six-core Xeon processor into the market and that chip and chip set will compete against Opteron in the high-end, multisocket server space. Intel will also bring out the first of its processors based on the "Nehalem" microarchitecture later in 2008 and AMD will look to compete against those processors as well.
"I think this particular processor is being awaited by a lot of customers," said John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research.
"For what is likely going to be the same amount of money, you are going to get a performance gain, there will be improvement in power consumption because of the process transition and there are customers who really like the AMD architecture," Spooner added. "Then, when Nehalem arrives on the scene, how this chip performs against that will be the headline and then customers will weigh the two technologies, especially if they are facing a thinner IT budget and if one platform can prove it's more efficient than the other."
When the 45-nm Shanghai processor does come to market later in 2008, Patla said he expects AMD to compete against Intel in the two-, four- and eight-socket server space. Later, AMD plans to bring out a chip for the volume single-socket server space called "Suzuka." Following that, AMD will offer a new server platform called "Fiorano" in the second half of 2009.
AMD has previously said Shanghai will use four processing cores and contain 6MB of Level 3 cache compared with the 2MB of L3 cache in the company's current crop of quad-core Opteron processors, which should add to the overall performance boost. While Patla and AMD would not discuss specific clock speed improvements with the 45-nm lineup, Shanghai is expected to deliver a boost of at least 20 percent, which should get the clock speed closer to the 3.0GHz promised with the original quad-core Opteron processors.
In addition to the performance boost and 35 percent reduction of power consumption compared with the 65-nm Opteron processors, some of the Shanghai processors are expected to support AMD's HyperTransport 3 technology, although that depends on what type of system the processor is used in.
Within Shanghai's instructional set, Patla said AMD added a feature to enhance virtualization called a world switch enhancement. This technology will allow the system to access larger memory pages for virtual machines, which is important as the memory systems of high-end systems continue to increase to support more and more virtual environments. This virtualization enhancement also allows the system to switch between different virtual machines and take advantage of larger and faster memory sizes.
Something AMD also has in its favor is that the Shanghai chips will be compatible with the current group of Opteron chips. With BIOS update, users can upgrade their systems fairly easily, which should help AMD move the products into the marketplace.
As the Shanghai processor goes into full production, the chip will be manufactured in volume at the company's Fab 36 facility in Dresden, Germany.