As Advanced Micro Devices moves closer to the summer launch of Barcelona, one thing is clear with analysts: the highly anticipated quad-core microprocessor alone won't be AMD's weapon of mass destruction against Intel.
Instead, Barcelona, the next generation of AMD's Opteron processor for workstations and servers, is expected to buy AMD a bit of time with a short-lived performance boost against its larger rival.
"Barcelona should put AMD back in the race, if not in the lead, in the server market," Jim McGregor, analyst for In-Stat, said. "But this by no means is a complete cure for AMD."
In an interview Wednesday with InformationWeek, Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD's server and workstation division, said performance and ease of adoption by computer makers were behind AMD's confidence in Barcelona.
Over the last couple of years, AMD has built the launch pad for Barcelona with the success of its current dual-core Opteron, which until the end of last year boosted AMD's market share at Intel's expense. Opteron today is offered by all the major x86 server makers, such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and now Dell.
In moving OEMs from dual-core to quad-core machines, AMD is using the same no-design-change strategy as its move from single-core to dual-core several years ago. Manufacturers only need to change the BIOS on new machines. Barcelona will fit into the same socket as the older chips. "There's a very low resistance path to adoption," Allen said.
Of course, better performance without increasing power consumption will be key to corporations, particularly one of AMD's key sectors: financial services. AMD believes it has that base covered; claiming Barcelona will deliver a 70% performance boost over its duo-core Opteron, while consuming the same amount of power.
AMD plans to release a full set of third-party benchmarks for Barcelona vs. Intel's Xeon quad-core -- codenamed Clovertown -- when Barcelona launches. In the meantime, AMD is tossing some numbers that it says back the argument that Barcelona will be better.
Last month, AMD introduced test results based on the SPECcpu2006 benchmarks that showed Barcelona would have up to a 50% advantage in floating-point performance, and 20% in integer performance.
Allen was quick to toss the same numbers, in playing down the fact that Intel's switch from a 65 nm manufacturing process to 45 nm is expected to give it faster and smaller transistors in the core, and lower power consumption. Intel will offer 45nm chips this year, while AMD won't have any available until the second half of next year.
Allen said AMD Opteron grabbed market share from Intel while the latter was using a 65nm process and AMD a 90nm process. "It's very clear that it's not the deciding factor," he said.
May be so, but some analysts see more of a mixed bag in Barcelona performance. "Take floating point out of the equation, and they're holding up their own, not pulling ahead of Intel," Martin Reynolds, analyst for Gartner, said.
While floating point is important, few business applications make use of it. Floating-point is more important to high-performance computing and video encoding.