Advanced Micro Devices will launch its highly anticipated quad-core Opteron microprocessor in August and the first of these “Barcelona” processors will run at 2.0GHz, company executives said June 29.
This development, AMD executives said, should end rumors that the companys first quad-core processor had been delayed. While AMD did not offer a specific date for the launch, executives added that they will deliver the processors according to the companys schedule and the first systems to support Barcelona should hit the market by September.
“We wanted to reconfirm our guidance,” said Bruce Shaw, vice president of worldwide commercial and enterprise marketing at AMD. “We have stated that we will ship the product by the middle of 2007 and we are confirming that with an August launch. We also wanted to set the record straight, and we wanted to talk with our partners and reconfirm our schedule and put to rest any questions.”
Shaw declined to comment on the rumors that Barcelona might be delayed, but he said the unveiling of the quad-core chip will be the “the biggest partner launch” in the Sunnyvale, Calif., companys history.
Since the beginning of 2007, AMD executives have talked about launching Barcelona by “midyear,” implying a June date. Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technology Associates, said while the August launch is a “little delay,” its better for AMD to get its quad-core processors right, even if that means pushing back the unveiling by a few weeks.
What is more important, Kay said, is looking to counter the impact Intel has had with its quad-core offering.
“With Barcelona, its not only a contribution to the companys bottom and top lines, but it also gives them a psychological victory after being battered around [by Intel] for the last year,” Kay said.
More than a display of its technological prowess, AMD is also hoping that Barcelona might boost the companys sagging performance. In the last two financial quarters the company has reported losses related to price cuts and reduced demand for its processors.
In addition, AMD watched as Intel launched its own quad-core processor for both severs and desktops in November, giving it a significant head start in this part of the chip market. That, along with Intels restructuring and its ability to deliver products on time in the last year, has reversed some but not all of the market share it lost to AMD in the past few years.
According to an April 30 Mercury Research report, Intel gained back six points in the overall x86 market and now has an 80.5 percent market share, while AMD has slipped from 25.3 percent to 18.7 percent.
With Barcelona coming in less than two months, AMD now has the chance to talk up some of the technological innovations that helped take away market share from Intel with the launch of the original Opteron in 2003.
Keeping Up the Heat
The first distinguishing characteristic of Barcelona AMD will highlight is its design, which allows for four x86 processing cores on a single piece of silicon. By comparison, Intels quad-core processor ties two dual-core chips onto a single piece of silicon.
In addition to the 2.0GHz clock speed, Shaw said that the quad-core Opteron processor will work within the same thermal envelope as the companys dual-core chips.
While not offering specifics on the quad-core chips, the companys dual-core Opterons have thermal envelopes of 68-, 95- and 120-watts. Barcelona, Shaw said, would fall within the 68- to 95-watt range.
The result, Shaw said, is not only better performance but also better performance per watt.
“With typical servers workloads, we will be able to show a 40 to 50 percent increase in performance, and in some cases, as much as a 70 percent improvement,” Shaw said.
Some of the other advancements that AMD will highlight in advance of the Barcelona launch include the chips Direct Connect Architecture, which allows improved memory and bandwidth by directly connecting memory to the CPU. It also allows the direct connection of CPUs to one another. Direct Connect is also a way for AMD to distinguish itself from the front-side bus technology that Intel uses in its processors.
There is also AMDs PowerNow technology, which works with the operating system and can increase or reduce the amount of power to the chip depending on the demand. This technology allows the chip to throttle back the power when the demand is low, which saves energy.
There are other features contained in Barcelona that Shaw said the company would detail when the processor is released in August. At the same time, AMD also plans to unveil some benchmark results that will show the increases in performance when running applications. Shaw declined to discuss pricing for the new processor.
In addition to the chip technology, Barcelona will use the same 1,207-pin socket that is now used with the dual-core Opteron, which will allow users—once the BIOS are upgraded—to switch to the quad-core processor. Shaw anticipates that the launch will include one-way, two-way and four-way systems.
A full list of OEMs that will offer the quad-core Opteron will likely not be known until September, when vendors start rolling out the first systems. However, at the Computex trade show, which was held in Taipei, Taiwan, earlier in June, three vendors—Supermicro, Tyan Computer and Uniwide Computer—announced that they would build systems based on the Barcelona processor.
At least one top-tier OEM has hinted at its plans for Barcelona.
Sun Microsystems announced June 26 that its new supercomputer—Constellation—will use the quad-core AMD processor. When Sun introduced a new blade architecture earlier this month, executives said the new systems will be able to upgrade from dual-core to quad-core Opterons as well.
With Barcelona launching in August, Intel does not plan to stand still. In the third quarter of 2007, the company will launch its “Caneland” platform for MP, or multiprocessor, systems—an area in which Opteron has made some significant headway.
Later this year, Intel will unveil its “Penryn” family of processors that will start the company along 45-nanometer manufacturing. Barcelona is based on 65-nanometer manufacturing, although AMD is preparing a 45-nanometer shrink for 2008.