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AMD Tries To Leapfrog Intel By Showing Single-Die, Quad-Core Server Processor

AMD demonstrated the first native quad-core x86 server processor at its annual Analyst Forum on Thursday.
AMD took a big step today in its efforts to close the gap that rival Intel created when it came out with its line of quad-core processors this fall. AMD on Thursday marked its own spot in the quad-core market by demonstrating the first native quad-core x86 server processor at its annual Industry Analyst Forum in Berkeley, Calif.

What will be the next big evolution in AMD's processor family won't be ready to ship until mid-2007, but the company hit a milestone by showing industry analysts and customers that it's moving along in its production cycle.

Dan Olds, a principal with the Gabriel Consulting Group, says AMD is trying to tell potential customers not go with Intel, but instead wait until AMD can come out with its quad-core server processor. "This is very important for AMD," he adds. "They're in a position now where they're perceived as being behind Intel, as far as the products they have out there now. AMD needs to show that they're going to be leapfrogging Intel in the future."

Since Intel was first with a quad-core product, AMD has some catching up to do, according to Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Six months from now, AMD can't just come out with a processor that matches where Intel is now, he says. AMD needs to come out ahead of where Intel will be six or seven months from now.

"They can't just rush to market," says Enderle. "That's what has them pushing out the release a little bit. They need to come out with something quite a bit better. Intel made a mistake when they released the Core Duo, which was rushed to market. AMD easily outperformed it. The lesson learned is: Do it right, and then you can take share and hold it."

The quad-core demo came the same day AMD announced its Quad FX platform for the desktop. The dual-socket, multicore desktop platform is aimed at the megatasker, who runs many high-end applications at the same time.

At Thursday's demonstration, AMD showed off a quad-core processor running four x86 processing cores on a single die of silicon. Intel uses two dual-core processors and connects them so they work together.

AMD demonstrated a server with a four-socket system powered by four yet-to-be-released Quad-Core AMD Opteron processors (codenamed Barcelona) manufactured on 65-nm silicon-on-insulator process technology. The server used all 16 cores.

Intel claims a 60% performance increase with its quad-core processors compared to its dual-core processors. John Fruehe, worldwide business development manager for AMD Opteron, wouldn't predict how big of a performance increase AMD will offer with its quad-core, but he says it would be greater than Intel's.

Jonathan Eunice, a principal IT advisor at Illuminata, expects that AMD will get a better performance boost with its quad-core processors than Intel did. He says AMD might see as much as a 70% performance jump, depending on the application being run.

"But it's also six months later" when it comes out, adds Eunice. "So it's not just about performance, but it's about when you can deliver it. Intel will have a monolithic quad-core, very much like the AMD design, down the road. This is very much a game of leapfrog. Intel gets its punch in by getting there very early. AMD gets its punch in by getting a more elegant design and a better performance bump. And then Intel comes back with its own elegant design."

Analysts Eunice, Enderle, and Olds all say AMD's native quad-core design is more elegant than Intel's current design. What does that mean for the user, though?

Olds says it means AMD's processors should be able to handle bulkier workloads without running into trouble. "AMD is talking about a true quad-core," Olds says. "All of their inter-processor communication takes place on the chip. Intel has basically taken their two-core CPUs and latched them together. They communicate over the front-side bus. That's a narrower and a little bit slower highway."

AMD is trying to freeze the market so IT managers will wait for its quad-core processors to come out before they pull out their wallets for a big buy. And Olds says it just might happen for them.

"They've built enough of a reputation since the introduction of Opteron about two years ago ... for being able to put out good, high-performance products that they'll have a fair share of customers waiting for them," Olds says.

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