AMD Paves Path To Sept. 10 Quad-Core Barcelona Launch - InformationWeek

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8/22/2007
10:10 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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AMD Paves Path To Sept. 10 Quad-Core Barcelona Launch

By now, the worst-kept secret in the industry is that AMD is hosting the formal launch of its quad-core Opteron processor, code-named "Barcelona," on Sept. 10. The scrappy semiconductor maker has sent out invites to "The Most Anticipated Premiere Of 2007." Though they won't say just what that might be, their previously announced shipping plans lead one to the only obvious conclusion.

By now, the worst-kept secret in the industry is that AMD is hosting the formal launch of its quad-core Opteron processor, code-named "Barcelona," on Sept. 10. The scrappy semiconductor maker has sent out invites to "The Most Anticipated Premiere Of 2007." Though they won't say just what that might be, their previously announced shipping plans lead one to the only obvious conclusion.Barcelona is of huge significance for AMD, not only because it's the first incarnation of the company's powerful new 10h architecture, but because Intel already has some 20 desktop and server quad devices out there. Barcelona, a quad-core addition to the Opteron server line, will be AMD's first. (Its Phenom desktop quad will follow later this year.)

If you want to put yourself in AMD's shoes, check out this corporate training video, which leaked to YouTube. (Thanks and credit to Charlie Demerjian over at The Inquirer for ferreting this out.) Note AMD's emphasis on socket-compatibility; users will be able to take quad-core Barcelonas and pop them directly into an existing socket housing a dual-core Opteron.

AMD is hoping Barcelona will put it back on competitive even keel with Intel's Core architecture. The back-story is that AMD took what was widely perceived as a big technical lead when it introduced its first Opteron in April 2003. Subsequently, both AMD and Intel battled back and forth over dual core in the 2005 time frame. However, Intel was seen as gaining momentum when it introduced its Core architecture in May, 2006 and then its first quad core devices last November.

One would think that there would always be a clear leader in x86 microprocessors, since these devices can be benchmarked. That's not really the case though; it's a much more subjective game than one would think. With different architectures, notwithstanding instruction-set compatibility, you end up comparing apples and oranges.

Also, in real-world systems, ancillary stuff like graphics cards are extremely important in terms of the actual performance one realizes. Finally, if one anoints one company as the leader, in print or online, the other company squawks. Which is why you'll find the more unfettered opinions being slung on the lesser-known enthusiast sites and forums.

But back to Barcelona and 10h. The new stuff in the architecture includes new instructions, improved floating-point execution units, faster data transfer between floating-point and general-purpose registers, and 1-Gbyte paging, to name a few. There's also HyperTransport3, an upgrade to the chip's I/O link, which boosts total bandwidth to 20.8 Gbytes/sec.



Block diagram of Barcelona, the upcoming quad-core Opteron. (Click picture to enlarge.)

Turning from the desktop to servers and blades, one angle to keep in mind is that the race to four cores is also a race to eight- and 16-core systems. That's because there are/will be many quads which can be used in multi-socket systems.

Finally, here's another video, with AMD senior vice president Randy Allen singing the praises of Barcelona and talking about how it'll boost server performance. He also chats up virtualization.

For a view of AMD's competition, read what Intel has up its corporate quad-core sleeve. And listen to Intel Fellow Mark Bohr explain the company's 45-nm chip-making technology.

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