Intel's Quad-Core Salvo Casts Light On Battle With AMD

Intel's announcement that it's going to release a new high-end quad core processor and cut pricing of its existing line up puts competitor AMD in a tough position.
Intel's announcement that it's going to release a new high-end quad core processor and cut pricing of its existing line up puts competitor AMD in a tough position.The powerful, new 3.0-GHz quad-core QX6850 will sell for around $1,000. On July 22, Intel is expected to slash the prices of its three other existing quad desktop chips. Right now, the QX6800, QX6800, and Q6600 sell for $1,199, $999, and $530, respectively.

It's not clear exactly what the post-July 22 carriage on those chips will be, but clearly the QX6800 will go below $1,000. The upshot is that AMD is going to be in a position where its high-end dual-core chips are selling for more than Intel's quad cores.

This will put additional pressure on AMD to meet its shipping target for its Phenom desktop quad core parts. Those devices, which will be AMD's first desktop quads, are due later this year. AMD is supposed to begin shipping its Barcelona quad-core server chips in August.

When I asked AMD recently to respond to rumors out of Taiwan that Phenom would be delayed until 2008, it reiterated its previous position that the Phenoms are "on track for launch in the second half of 2007." Given the light the price cuts from Intel is casting on the quad battle, it's imperative that they do indeed launch in the promised time frame.

AMD's new devices -- both Phenom and Barcelona -- have been anxiously awaited because they implement the company's new "10h" architecture, which has a bunch of hot features. These include new micro-instructions, improved floating-point execution units, faster data transfer between floating-point and general-purpose registers, and 1-Gbyte paging, to name a few. The 10h architecture also incorporates optimization to make AMD's hardware-based virtualization technology run faster.

While early expectations were that 10h would constitute a potent competitor to Intel's Core architecture, there have been rumblings that AMD may be having trouble ramping 10h up to its full potential. Most prominently, AMD announced that its first Barcelona chips wouldn't exceed 2.0-GHz clock speeds. That cast a pall on AMD's party, though, to be fair, this may be more of an indication of process-based issues (i.e., ramping up the fabrication of the chips), than any limitation of the architecture.

More interesting, a correspondent pointed out to me the whole question of "who needs quad cores on the desktop"? His point is that, while desktop quads are interesting, the rubber really hits the road in the server arena, where such processing power is both genuinely necessary and enables a higher level of server consolidation.

More on the server angle tomorrow.

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