AMD Finally Rolls Out Barcelona

AMD plans to take on Intel in the high-end server space with its quad-core Opteron.

After much hype and anticipation, Advanced Micro Devices will officially unveil its quad-core Opteron processor during seven different worldwide events on Sept. 10.

The quad-core Opteron, better known by its "Barcelona" code name, has been shipping to AMDs software and hardware partners for more than a month, although the company waited until Sept. 10 to make the official announcement. AMD has bet a sizable portion of its business on the technology on the "native architecture" of its x86 quad-core processor as the Sunnyvale, Calif., company goes head-to-head with Intel in the high-end, multiprocessor server market.

As the company announced in July, the quad-core Opteron will debut with a maximum clock speed of 2.0GHz, although several AMD executives, including Chairman and CEO Hector Ruiz, have said the company plans to ramp up the clock speeds in the coming quarters. At least one model scheduled for release in the fourth quarter will offer a speed of 2.3GHz. An AMD source told eWEEK that there are also plans for a 2.5GHz model with a thermal envelope of 105 watts.

Instead of clock speed, AMD plans to focus on the virtualization capabilities of Barcelona and its power performance. In addition to the processor, AMD plans to introduce a new metric to measure power called Average CPU Power, or ACP. The metric, said Pat Patla, director of the server and workstation unit for AMD, will offer a more accurate measurement of power use compared to Intels TDP, which refers to how much heat a chip has to dissipate. AMD has been using the TDP metric, but will now focus on ACP.


CEO Hector Ruiz expects Barcelona to strengthen AMDs position against Intel. Read the interview here.

Under the new ACP metric, AMD will offer Barcelona with a thermal envelope between 105 watts and 55 watts. Originally, AMD said the quad-core processor would fit inside the same 65- to 95-watt envelope as the dual-core Opteron processor. The new metric will include the power used for all parts of the processor, including the cores, memory controller and AMDs own HyperTransport links.

"Average CPU Power is much more meaningful than Intels conservative TDP values," Patla said. "We know that ACP is relevant. We used to reference our TDP, which is our theoretical maximum wattage. Under commercially relevant workloads the processors would be consuming considerably lower power than our TDP or the theoretical maximum figure, and when youre planning a data center, an overestimated power budget can sacrifice data center efficiency. What we have done is create a much more meaningful, real-world spec."

Despite all the work that went into developing and positioning Barcelona in the market, the run-up to the Sept. 10 debut did not come off as smoothly as AMD had hoped.

First, the company pushed back the debut of the quad-core Opteron by several months. It was originally scheduled to hit the market by mid-year. Then, executives had to concede that the processors clock speed had come in lower than some partners and industry experts had anticipated. In an interview with eWEEK a few weeks before the launch, Ruiz said that some of the technological aspects of developing Barcelona proved much tougher than the company had anticipated.

"There is nothing that we would have been more excited about than getting it out earlier," Ruiz said in the interview.

"But you know we are not making excuses. This is a damn difficult thing to do, as Im sure you can imagine …This is 600 million transistors on a chip, four cores, complex technology and tremendous architectural features. It was, frankly, a little tougher challenge than we had anticipated and it frustrated the hell out of us because we wanted to get it out there earlier."


Click here to read more about AMDs current road map.

In addition to the technical problems, AMD has faced an Intel that has bounced back in the past year with its Core microarchitecture and has been shipping quad-core Xeons since November. On Sept. 6, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., rolled out its "Caneland" platform for multiprocessor servers that includes new quad- and dual-core "Tigerton" processors.

Finally, there are AMDs financial problems, which include the first two financial quarters of 2007, where the company had to report losses. Then, the company lost a couple of significant executives, including Henri Richard, the companys marketing chief and one of its most vocal spokesmen.

Jim McGregor, a research director at the InStat Group, said the lack of a Barcelona model with a significant clock speed does not matter so much in the MP space, where the processor is looking to compete first. However, clock speed will matter later when AMD prepares to release additional models for one- and two-socket x86 servers.

For now, the two issues that the companys customers seemed most concerned about, McGregor said, are that the quad-core Opteron works within the same thermal envelope as the dual-core version and that it will fit into the same socket.

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