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Will AMD's Quad Core Be A Phenom?

Will AMD's announcement that it'll ship its Phenom (previously, Agena) desktop and Barcelona server quad-core processors later this year blunt the advantage Intel has achieved by being first to market with quads?
Will AMD's announcement that it'll ship its Phenom (previously, Agena) desktop and Barcelona server quad-core processors later this year blunt the advantage Intel has achieved by being first to market with quads?Intel is also ahead of AMD in chip fabrication technology. Specifically, Intel will probably roll out 45-nm quad cores this summer, while AMD's first quads will be made in less advanced 65-nm technology. (In chip manufacture, smaller is better because this enables lower-power operation, plus you can pack more chips on a wafer, upping your manufacturing yield.)

However, one would be mistaken to assume that the quad-core race will necessarily remain static, or that Intel will retain its lead. Looking back at dual core, AMD and Intel played an ongoing game of leapfrog, where AMD held a long early lead and then Intel vaulted ahead on the strength of its Core 2 Duo family.



 Phenom will be the official product name for AMD's Agena desktop quad core.

(click image for larger view)


Phenom will be the official product name for AMD's Agena desktop quad core.

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The deal is that consumers care little about the details of chip fabrication processes. They also don't pay too much attention to hype and pre-announcements. (AMD's Phenom, as impressive as it sounds, won't ship until later this year.) The only thing they care about is performance (or, more precisely, price/performance).

The other interesting data point is that, right now anyway, it seems like there's a lot more interest in quad-core on the server than on the desktop. Server quads play nicely into the ongoing consolidation story in the enterprise space, where IT managers want to reduce the number of individual machines they have to manage by packing as much power into each server rack as possible.

Indeed, that's making dual-socket quads a very popular server configuration. (This is where there are two sockets on a server motherboard, with each socket housing a quad-core processor, for eight physical cores total.)



NUMA, for non-uniform memory access, is a design used in high-end multiprocessing systems, such as the one shown here with four quad-core Barcelonas, for 16 total physical processors.

(click image for larger view)


NUMA, for non-uniform memory access, is a design used in high-end multiprocessing systems, such as the one shown here with four quad-core Barcelonas, for 16 total physical processors.

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That was confirmed at Intel's Spring Analyst Meeting, earlier this month where Intel CEO Paul Otellini noted that "DP" (dual-processor-configuration) quad-core Xeons are being snapped up. "Quad continues to grow as a percentage of our DP shipments," he said. "Why? Because quad-core DP is the sweet spot for server deployment. Think of it as a very cost effective eight-way machine: Two processors, each of which has four processors on it."

AMD is also aiming at this space. Barcelona, which is the upcoming quad version of Opteron, can be used in two- and even four-socket configurations in high-end NUMA multiprocessing systems.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer