AMD's 'Shanghai' Processor Looks to Counter Intel's Nehalem

On the eve of the Intel Developer Forum, AMD executives said the company's 45-nanometer Shanghai processor will enter the market by the fourth quarter of 2008. The AMD processor is designed to compete against the Intel Nehalem processor, especially in the volume two-socket server market.

Advanced Micro Devices is making it clear that its upcoming 45-nanometer processor for servers-"Shanghai"-will compete against what Intel brings to market with its new line of processors based on the upcoming "Nehalem" microarchitecture.

On the eve of the Intel Developer Forum, at an Aug. 15 press conference, AMD Senior Vice President Randy Allen said these 45-nm chips will ship in the fourth quarter of 2008, which means that some of AMD's OEM partners could have early systems for sale by the end of the year.

In previous statements, AMD executives have said the first 45-nm processor products would ship in the second half of 2008. Intel has not specified when the first of its Nehalem chips for servers will ship to partners. The first of these processors will appear in high-end desktops.

But it is clear that Intel will want to counter what AMD has to offer, especially in the high-volume, two-socket server market. This could mean Nehalem-based chips for two-socket servers will appear in the fourth quarter as well.

During the press conference, Allen attempted to claim that AMD would be ready with its products before Intel, especially those chips for two- and four-socket servers. While this can be seen as a classic fear, uncertainty and doubt campaign, it at least shows that AMD feels it has overcome the problems that led to delays with the quad-core, 65-nm Opteron chip in 2007.

"They [Intel] won't be factoring our 45-nanometer Shanghai product and be making shipments of that by the end of the year," Allen said. "I think some of the questions that should be asked are, What is their [Intel's] specific schedule for their two-socket offering around Nehalem and when is that going to make its way into the four-socket platforms?"

It should not come as a surprise that AMD would want to take some of the thunder out of Intel's upcoming Developer Forum, but the fact that Allen spent a significant amount of time talking about how Shanghai will measure up to Nehalem shows where AMD is looking to compete against Intel through the rest of the year and into 2009.

"What AMD basically said today was that the company is confident about its position going into the second half of the year and despite the stumbles that they have had between last year and early this year, the second half of 2008 is shaping up with their strongest product lines to date," said John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

"Of course, AMD is still up against a juggernaut in Intel, which also believes that the best of what they have to offer will also come to the market in the second half of 2008," Spooner said.

The Intel Nehalem architecture will include two improvements that should have a significant impact within the multisocket server space. The first is an integrated memory controller, which will eliminate the front side bus and increase performance, and the second is a high-speed, chip-to-chip interconnect called QuickPath. (For the record, AMD has accused Intel of taking engineering and chip design ideas first used with Opteron.)

While AMD is looking to compete with Intel in the two- and four-socket server space, there was a notable absence of details about Shanghai during Allen's talk, including specifics on performance improvements.

AMD has previously said Shanghai will contain 6MB of Level 3 cache compared with the 2MB of L3 cache in the company's current crop of quad-core Opteron processors. Something AMD 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.

For Intel, an upgrade to a Nehalem chip will require a new chip set, which means OEMs will have to engineer new systems.

The rest of the AMD press conference focused on how the company plans to bring more graphics and CPU technology into the market during the next several months, especially when it comes to notebooks. When the issue of AMD's mysterious "asset-smart" strategy came up, Allen declined to comment.