Insisting it's learned from the bugs and delays that plagued Barcelona, Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday said the rollout of its first 45-nanometer server chip, code-named Shanghai, is ahead of schedule and promised that computer servers with the new quad-core processor would be available in the fourth quarter.
AMD met with reporters in San Francisco to assure the market that the company learned from its missteps in launching Barcelona a year ago. The last major server chip rollout was hurt by production delays caused by bugs that prevented the chipmaker from getting Barcelona on a smooth production schedule for more than six months.
As a result of the Barcelona troubles, "there were partners who were a little hesitant in looking at the early silicon of Shanghai," said Patrick M. Patla, general manager of the company's server and workstation division.
To avoid a repeat with Shanghai, AMD worked internally to revamp its testing process and conducted validation testing with its large customers sooner than usual to try to ensure that the chip was ready. As a result, Shanghai-based servers will be available in the fourth quarter of this year, rather than early next year. "We are firing on all cylinders," Patla said.
The first Shanghai chips, which are currently in full production, will be 75-watt processors for mainstream x86 servers. The desktop version, code-named Deneb, is also set to be generally available in the fourth quarter.
In the first quarter of next year, AMD plans to ship a 55-watt Shanghai processor for blades and low-power servers used in large clusters that form the foundation of cloud computing environments. In the same quarter, AMD expects to ship a 105-watt chip for the highest-performing servers.
In shipping Shanghai, AMD is playing catch-up to rival Intel, which has been benefiting from the advantages of moving from a 65-nm to a 45-nm manufacturing process for nearly a year. The numbers refer to the size of the chip's transistors. Getting more of the latter on a single piece of silicon, or die, significantly boosts performance at the same amount of power consumption.
AMD claims Shanghai will deliver a 35% increase in power efficiency and performance over Barcelona. Other advantages include triple the cache, higher clock speeds, and the introduction in the first quarter of HyperTransport 3, a technology that AMD claims will significantly boost communication speeds between silicon.
Shanghai chips will be available for two-, four-, and eight-socket servers, and can plug into the same Barcelona motherboards with only a bios upgrade, Patla said. The backward compatibility and the "speed bump" customers would get from Shanghai are expected to usher a quick transition from Barcelona to the new processor.
In mid-2009, AMD plans to ship its first chipset in five years. Code-named Fiorano, the chipset, which includes graphics technology from AMD's ATI division, will support Shanghai and AMD's first six-core processor, code-named Istanbul, which is scheduled to ship in the second half of next year, Patla said.
In 2010, AMD plans to ship a new platform, code-named Maranello, that will require a new socket to support enhancements such as the move to DDR3 memory from DDR2. For the new platform, AMD will be also releasing in 2010 a 12-core processor code-named Magny-Cours, and a six-core chip, code-named Sao Paolo.
AMD decided it was time to build its own chipset in order to compete in the growing market for virtualization technology, which enables customers to run multiple applications on different operating systems in the same server. "Virtualized input/output is the number one driver for that solution set," Patla said of Fiorano. "We want to make sure we bring the solution to market when it needs to be there."
One area of virtualization that'll probably remain a problem for a while is the difficulty in moving virtual machines running an OS and application on an Intel server to an AMD server. Being able to do so easily could encourage companies to add AMD machines to an Intel environment.
Patla claimed moving VMs is possible today, but acknowledged it could only be done under certain conditions. He declined to provide details and said he didn't know AMD's plans in that area.
Behind AMD's product road map are mounting losses resulting from the problems with the Barcelona launch, the costly acquisition of graphics chipmaker ATI Technologies and tough competition from its larger rival, Intel. For the second quarter of this year, AMD lost nearly $1.2 billion, the latest in a string of quarterly losses.
AMD in July replaced chief executive Hector Ruiz with Dirk Meyer, who was AMD president and chief operating officer since 2006. Ruiz remains AMD's chairman and assumed the title of executive chairman responsible for developing a new manufacturing strategy to reduce costs. That strategy is expected to include the shift to third-party manufacturers, and the closing of AMD fabs.