AMD Leans On More Cores To Best Intel

Unable to match its rival's volume, AMD hopes to attract buyers with server processors like its upcoming Opteron "Istanbul" that offer a better performance per watt.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

April 22, 2009

3 Min Read

Advanced Micro Devices on Wednesday launched an updated Opteron server chip road map in which the struggling chipmaker is hoping to lure customers from Intel with processors that offer more cores for the buck.

AMD executives told a news conference at its Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters that its six-core Opteron, code-named Istanbul, would be available in servers from computer makers in June. The chip, which has two more cores than Intel's latest Xeon processors, will be available in two-, four-, and eight-socket systems, and will be "drop-in" compatible with sockets in systems running current-generation Opteron processors.

Like Intel's current Xeon processors, Istanbul is built using a 45-nanometer manufacturing process. In 2010, AMD plans to release eight- to 12-core 45-nm processors code-named Magny-Cours, and in 2011, 32-nm 12- to 16-core chips code-named Interlagos. Magny-Cours and Interlagos officially will be called the Opteron 6000 series.

The new processors will run on a new platform, code-named Maranello. The platform will require a new socket to support enhancements such as support for DDR3 memory and a new chipset. The platform will be available for two- and four-socket servers.

In the same timeframe, AMD plans to release a new platform, code-named San Marino, for one- and two-socket servers. The platform will support new 45-nm four- to six-core processors, code-named Lisbon, which is set to ship in 2010. In 2011, AMD said it plans to release 32-nm six- to eight-core processors, code-named Valencia, for San Marino, which will also include a new chipset and many of the same enhancements as Maranello.

All the new processors, starting with Istanbul, will be manufactured by GlobalFoundries, a joint company between AMD and Advanced Technology Investment Co., formed by the Abu Dhabi government. AMD stockholders in February approved the spin-off of AMD's manufacturing operations to the joint venture in order to reduce AMD's costs and hopefully end the company's string of money-losing quarters.

AMD's road map reflects a strategy in which the company is hoping to attract buyers with processors that offer more cores for roughly the same price as products from Intel with fewer cores, said John Spooner, analyst for Technology Business Research. Istanbul is expected to be priced competitively with Intel's latest Xeon quad-core chips, and AMD processors planned for 2010 and 2011 are likely to follow the same pricing strategy.

"It appears they're trying to out-core Intel," Spooner told InformationWeek.

AMD is pitching its multicore products as offering better performance per watt for the price than Intel. In addition, more cores are better for server environments in which virtualization technology is being used to run more business applications with a single computer, according to AMD.

Whether that proves to be true remains to be seen. Spooner said companies are likely to find AMD's offerings attractive enough to run side-by-side tests of Intel- and AMD-based servers. "It's still going to come down to actual real-world testing," he said.

AMD needs to get back on track in the corporate market, where sales have been "poor," Spooner said. The company has done better in consumer PCs, but that hasn't been enough. "Without having both pieces of the market, you don't have enough business," he said.

AMD on Tuesday reported widening losses in the first quarter, ended March 31, as revenue fell 21% to $1.8 billion. The company lost $416 million, compared with $351 million in the same period a year ago. The latest report follows a string of losses going back more than two years.

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