Podcast: AMD Loss Obscures Aggressive Chip PlansPodcast: AMD Loss Obscures Aggressive Chip Plans
AMD's persistent economic challenges -- it just reported a first quarter loss -- have obscured its very real technology story. The scrappy chipmaker remains on track with an aggressive Opteron server-chip roadmap, which will see its six-core Istanbul processor fielded in the next several months, and its 8- and 12-core designs coming in 2010. I talked about Operton recently with Vlad Rozanovich, who heads up AMD's enterprise sales efforts in the United States. Read on to access the podcast.
April 22, 2009
AMD's persistent economic challenges -- it just reported a first quarter loss -- have obscured its very real technology story. The scrappy chipmaker remains on track with an aggressive Opteron server-chip roadmap, which will see its six-core Istanbul processor fielded in the next several months, and its 8- and 12-core designs coming in 2010. I talked about Operton recently with Vlad Rozanovich, who heads up AMD's enterprise sales efforts in the United States. Read on to access the podcast.This is a heady time for server buyers. Benchmarks are better than ever before, and there's a big argument to be made for upgrades, which can be paid for with energy savings achieved by the latest processors. Intel has stolen many of the recent headlines, with the launch of its new Nehalem Xeon processor, which is justifiably winning kudos for its performance and memory bandwidth.
At the same time, AMD notes that it's still very much in the game. It points out that the first Operton broke new ground architecturally when it was released in 2003, and that AMD was first to market with an integrated, on-chip memory controller. (That's a tactic Intel has only just adopted, with the Quickpath Interconnect built into the newest Xeons.) The processor performance battle between Intel and AMD remain intense, and we're likely to see an ongoing game of multicore one-upmanship. Interestingly, the battle now seems to be not just, how fast can you go, but also, how many cores can you pack onto one slice of silicon? OK, so let's get to my podcast with Rozanovich. The most interesting trend on the immediate horizon is the move beyond four cores. Keep in mind that quad core processors are going to remain the sweet spot for users for years to come. Indeed, the predilection among server users is toward multi-socket, quad core designs. So, for example, you have motherboards hosting dual quad processors, which gives you eight physical cores. Then, when virtualization is added on top of that, the number of logical cores available on which to run apps is doubled or quadrupled. But back to that "beyond-four-core" trend. AMD introduced its third-generation Opteron (code-named Shanghai) in November. Those are 45-nm, quad-core devices, which are delivering solid performance and proving popular. The six-core Istanbul is coming this year. Next up, in 2010, are the eight-core "Magny-Cours" (that's how they spell it) and 12-way Sao Paulo. You can see the roadmap in this slide:
Roadmap for AMD's Opteron server processor. (Click picture to enlarge.)
I asked Rozanovich if, for buyers, it was all about cores. Not necessarily, he explained in the podcast. (By pressing the tiny play button here, you can listen to our chat, or open the podcast player floating on the lower left of this post). "There's a balance today," he said. "There are a lot customers still asking us for single-threaded performance applications. You have another spectrum of the IT community asking for as many cores as possible. Applications like Oracle on the database side -- they like cores." We also talked about cloud, which Rozanovich sees as "utility computing 2.0." Smaller companies see cloud as a way to easily access extra computing capacity. "What we're also seeing is large corporations looking at internal clouds," he said. Rozanovich said that the technical requirements of servers used in cloud setups tilts toward low-cost, general--purpose models. (Makes sense, because you need so many of them. This is of a piece with Google's home-grown models, which are clearly designed with cost efficiencies in mind.) For this niche, Rozanovich talked up the applicability of AMD's Shanghai (Opteron) HE and the soon-to-be released, low-voltage Shanghai EE (energy efficient) quad-core processors. As well, he says AMD has also been working with OEMs to support the development low-power motherboards. "It's not just the CPU; the whole infrastructure around it matters from a low-power perspective," he added. Other snippets from the podcast: AMD is currently on 45-nm. It will move to 32-nm next year. (Intel's first 32-nm parts will ship later this year.) AMD is working to Integrate the graphics processing engines into the microprocessor. "From a mobile perspective, you're going to get less silicon space, which allows for smaller motherboards, and in turn for less power consumption," Rozanovich said. AMD continues to pooh-poohs netbooks. Intel has made a splash there with its Atom processor. While AMD does offer versions of its Turion mobile processor for netbooks, Rozanovich says the company views netbooks as a portion of the notebook market. That's it for now. Once again, press the tiny play button here to listen to our chat, or open the podcast player floating on the lower left of this post.
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.
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