Intel, AMD Duke Out 64-Bit Processor Turf

By Mark Hachman  |  Posted 2004-02-18

Intel, AMD Duke Out 64-Bit Processor Turf

SAN FRANCISCO—According to analysts, Intel Corp.s addition of 64-bit extensions to its 32-bit Xeon line could force Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s own 64-bit processor line to compete on price, not technology.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, AMD introduced several new lines of 64-bit Opteron processors, including new low-power versions, and lowered the prices of several current parts.

The market tremor occurred on Tuesday at Intel Developer Forum here, when Intel chief executive Craig Barrett announced that the companys code-name Nocona, a two-way server processor and a member of its Xeon line, will add the 64-bit extensions beginning in the second quarter. And a "Potomac" derivative designed for servers with the extensions will enter the market early next year, the company said.

Although the Opteron is a 64-bit processor, AMD has positioned it directly against the 32-bit Xeon, even pricing the chip at the same price as the Xeon.

Intel execs offered more details on the companys 64-bit plans at IDF. Click here to read more.

Now that Intel has followed AMDs lead into the market for 64-bit computing, the leveled playing field could play to Intels advantage over the long term, analysts said. In the short term, AMD will have the market all to itself, and the advantage of an established customer base and infrastructure.

Over time, however, analysts said the capabilities of both the Opteron as well as the Xeon processors will more broadly overlap, meaning that price will become more of a lever in winning sales.

Read an eWEEK Labs shootout between the two hardware platforms here.

Vendors that offer systems based on both the Opteron and the Xeon were expected to continue to support both processors.

"Customer choice will guide our positioning," said Jeff Benck, vice president for IBMs eServer BladeCentre in Armonk, N.Y.

"Today our e325 is a great price/performance 1U platform. Our current x335 today is Xeon-based and has many additional enterprise features and once the Xeon with 64-bit extensions are available, it will support that too. So we will be able to offer 64-bit extensions across our uni[processor] and two-way platforms regardless of whether it is Intel or AMD. And that gives customers the ability to choose whats best for them."

Officials at Hewlett-Packard Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif., also said that the company plans to design systems around the forthcoming 64-bit Xeons, even as the company reportedly evaluates Opteron-based systems for launch later this quarter.

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AMD Seeks to Change

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But what may eventually guide those customers is, in a word, "price", according to Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research Corp. of Cave Creek, Ariz.

"The reality is that AMD always positioned the Opteron against the Xeon," added Mike Feibus, principal at TechKnowledge Strategies Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.

Meanwhile, AMD may have fired an early shot in the price war Tuesday when it lowered prices on many of its Opteron processors, especially its high-end 800 series.

AMD cut the price of its 848 and 846 chips by nearly 50 percent, reducing their tags to $1,514 and $1,165, respectively. The company also cut the price of the Opteron 842 and Opteron 840 to $698, an indication that AMD will cut the slower chip from its portfolio. The chipmaker also made smaller cuts across its remaining Opteron processors.

Currently, Intels multiprocessor Xeons range in price from a 1.5-GHz Xeon for $1,177 to $3,692 for a 2.8-GHz model.

AMD also has some other arrows in its quiver. On Tuesday, AMD released two new low-power versions, the Opteron 846HE and Opteron 840EE, which consume 55 and 30 watts of power, respectively. Both are designed for servers with four or more processors.

Conversely, a GHz Xeon MP with 1 MB of L2 cache consumes about 57 watts and Intels fastest 2.8-GHz Xeon MP chip consumes 72 watts.

In addition, Microsoft may also require a hardware abstraction layer for Intels new 64-bit Xeons to make them fully compatible with its Windows Server 2003 Extended Edition, which was originally designed for the AMD Opteron, according to Kimball Brown, a former Dataquest analyst and vice president of business development for ServerWorks, a server chipset division of Broadcom Corp.

AMD officials also said that the 32-bit performance of the Opteron will remain superior to the Xeon, even after the enhancements are added.

"Were still differentiating our processor lineup in the same way since we introduced them," said AMD spokeswoman Amy Stansbury. "In addition to 64-bit complexity, well be better on industry-standard benchmarks as well." The differences lie in the microarchitectural construction of the chips, she said.

But for now, AMDs advantage remains secure.

"This year Xeon cant compete with Opteron," said Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR in San Jose, Calif., who said AMD will eventually design multicore Opterons that imitate Intels chip-level multithreading, called hyperthreading.

"AMD has a really good argument for many years," Glaskowsky said. Over time, however, its advantage will wane, he added.

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