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7/27/2007
12:33 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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AMD Promises Aggressive Quad-Core Road Map

Promising quad-core processors soon and an aggressive technology road map aimed squarely at beating back Intel, AMD chairman Hector Ruiz yesterday positioning himself as the calm at the center of his company's recent financial storm, which saw $600 million in second-quarter losses. But AMD's commitment to ship Barcelona and Phenom this year, coupled with an aggressive processor road map, could put the scrappy

Promising quad-core processors soon and an aggressive technology road map aimed squarely at beating back Intel, AMD chairman Hector Ruiz yesterday positioning himself as the calm at the center of his company's recent financial storm, which saw $600 million in second-quarter losses. But AMD's commitment to ship Barcelona and Phenom this year, coupled with an aggressive processor road map, could put the scrappy semiconductor maker back on an even keel soon.Ruiz got the bad stuff out of the way early on Thursday, at the company's annual Analyst Day, where he made reference to its recently posted operating loss of $457 million. "There is no way to sugarcoat our performance...It was unacceptable and it was a disaster," Ruiz said.

Whether AMD is poised to recover as well as Ruiz thinks it can hinges on two things: its imminent release of its first quad-core processors, and its longer-term chip road map.



Desktop road map from AMD's July 26 analyst day. (Click picture to enlarge.)

Most important for AMD is the immediate acceptance of the Barcelona server and Phenom desktop quad cores. They'll be shipping into a market which already has a decent selection of Intel quad options from which to choose.

At the Analyst Day, AMD finally removed any lingering doubt about exactly when Barcelona will drop: It's in August. That's good news, notwithstanding Web chatter about the first crop of Barcelona's not going beyond a 2.0-GHz clock speed. As I've previously written, this is likely the result of early growing pains, and we should see faster iterations in short order.

AMD also removed a little bit of doubt surrounding Phenom's ship date, but unfortunately not all of it. AMD said Phenom will ship in the fourth quarter of this year. However, in describing Barcelona, AMD used the phrase "on track to ship for revenue in August." With Phenom, it said only "will ship in the fourth quarter," omitting the key word "revenue."



Pinwheel and Cartwheel will be AMD's mainstream desktop PC platforms.(Click picture to enlarge.)

Tea-leaf readers might parse this to mean that, while Phenom will technically be available by year's end, it won't be around in any significant quantities until 2008.

On the road map front, the big news is about the successors to Barcelona and Phenom, which are already in the works for expected delivery in mid-2008.

In the server space, Shanghai will be the successor to Barcelona. It'll incorporate core improvements, will be manufactured on 45-nm process technology (Barcelona is on 65-nm), and will have 6-MB of L3 cache. The quad desktop world will get Ridgeback. Along with 45-nm, this one will move to the new AM2+ socket.

AMD also dropped a bunch of other road map info on the mobile and handheld fronts. I won't diverge from my desktop-and-servers script here to go into that stuff (you can check out Antone Gonsalves' story here), though I will post some semi-legible PowerPoints below.



AMD's notebook platform roadmap.(Click picture to enlarge.)

In terms of perceptions, while I couldn't feel the vibe in the room, I came away from the Webcast of the presentation with the distinct sense that the worst may be over for AMD. Folks like AMD president Dirk Meyer and Chief Technology Office Phil Hester seemed upbeat, not in a phony corporate way, but about the technology they've got coming.

I don't take this to mean there won't be growing pains -- like the clock speed stuff and continued pressure to move to 45-nm as soon as possible. However, I expect to see a healthy and exciting quad-core race between AMD's 10h architecture and Intel's Core family.

The most important hint for the future direction of the industry came via AMD's emphasis on graphics processing power, which it now has a strong handle on through its acquisition of ATI. Integrating graphics capabilities into the main processor has long been a dream of chip architects. With the move to 45-nm, expect to see things happen in that regard soon (though not too soon). Taking out the crystal ball, I expect on-board GPUs to be the big story of 2009.



AMD will dive into handhelds with its planned Imageon platform. (Click picture to enlarge.)

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