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1/30/2008
01:45 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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AMD's Bug-Free Barcelona Is Ahead Of Schedule

System builders and end-users still troubled over the fallout from the bug in AMD's quad-core Barcelona and Phenom processors can take comfort from some good news. Sources close to AMD tell me that the new B3 stepping, which corrects the problems via a silicon fix, is ahead of schedule and things are looking good. Here are the details.

System builders and end-users still troubled over the fallout from the bug in AMD's quad-core Barcelona and Phenom processors can take comfort from some good news. Sources close to AMD tell me that the new B3 stepping, which corrects the problems via a silicon fix, is ahead of schedule and things are looking good. Here are the details.The bug affected the translation-lookaside buffer (TLB) in both the quad-core Opteron (aka Barcelona) server and desktop Phenom devices. This was bad news for AMD when it came to light in December, because Barcelona and Phenom are AMD's first quad cores, and are the scrappy semiconductor vendor's parry against Intel, which was first to market with quads. Accordingly, AMD took a huge publicity hit.

However, AMD was quick to issue a patch for the affected parts, which most users immediately put into place. This has been particularly important on the server side, because it turns out that the TLB glitch seems to have been more of a showstopper for Barcelona than for Phenom. This is probably because servers are under much more stress than desktops. The latter don't typically get put through the kind of paces which would cause a relatively arcane glitch like the TLB bug to show up.

Anyway, I can tell you for a fact that Barcelona users did, in fact, use the patch (it was a BIOS patch), and it corrects the problem, albeit with something of a performance hit.

Now that I've got the background out of the way, let me get back to the inside insights, which I got from my source:

On Barcelona:

Engineering samples of the new B3 silicon, which fixes the TLB bug in silicon so that there's no performance hit, already are in the hands of some key AMD OEMs. This means Tier 1 server vendors.

Production B3 Barcelona parts will start rolling out toward the end of the first quarter (by the end of March), with volume shipments ramping up as planned in Q2.

On Phenom:

Because AMD hasn't seen any effect from the TLB erratum among Phenom users (as I mentioned above, it doesn't seriously come into play on the desktop), the company is considering shipping B2 parts without the BIOS patch. This would remove the performance hit the B2 Phenoms currently get hit with from the patch. In any case, B3 Phenoms are on the way in Q2.

In addition, two new, faster Phenoms are coming in Q2. These are the 2.4-GHz Phenom X4 9700 and the 2.6-GHz Phenom X4 9900.

For my deep dive into the design of these new AMD processors, read "Inside AMD's Phenom And Opteron Quad-Core Architectures."

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