AMD, Intel Eye High End with New Server Chips

With AMD almost ready to launch the six-core Istanbul chip and Intel talking about its upcoming eight-core Nehalem EX processor, the two rivals are on a collision course as they compete for the high end of the x86 server market. AMD officials say Istanbul will touch on the two-, four- and eight-socket spaces, and is coming out six months ahead of schedule. Nehalem EX will start appearing in systems in early 2010. But the high end could prove to be fertile ground for Intel and AMD, as many enterprises are looking to move away from the RISC/Itanium/mainframe space, according to one analyst.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are both aiming at the high end of the server space with their upcoming processors.

Intel officials on May 26 outlined details of its eight-core "Nehalem EX" Xeon MP processor aimed at servers with four or more sockets. Boyd Davis, general manager of Intel's server platforms marketing group, said during a press conference that the chip-which will start shipping to OEMs later this year and appear in systems in early 2010-will give enterprises an alternative to RISC-based environments.

Now comes AMD with the launch of its six-core "Istanbul" Opteron chip, which officials say will compete not only with Intel's Xeon 5500 Series "Nehalem EP" in the two-socket space, but also with Nehalem EX in the four- and eight-socket arena.

And, they said, it is about ready to go now, a good half-year before Nehalem EX and months before it was initially scheduled to ship. The chip is expected to launch the week of June 1, and most top-tier OEMs are expected to roll out Istanbul-powered systems.

That's a big deal not only to OEMs and end users, but to AMD itself, Pat Patla, vice president and general manager of AMD's server and workstation division, said in an interview.

"Yes, AMD did not execute, and we had some issues bringing it to market," Patla said.

"It" was "Barcelona," the company's first quad-core Opteron that was hampered by technical problems and delays. However, AMD changed the processes used to develop chips-for example, putting one engineer in charge of the entire process, as well as the creation of Centers of Excellence centered around particular areas of engineering expertise-and the result was the next Opteron chip, "Shanghai," came in months ahead of schedule.

Raghuram Tupuri was the lead architect for Shanghai, and Steven Hesley was the lead for Istanbul.

With Istanbul, AMD officials first decided in March 2008 to put it on the product road map to meet demand from OEMs and end users, and within 15 months is ready to ship, Patla said.