Analysts: AMD Shanghai chip gets thumbs-up from OEMs

Chip maker ships out new 45nm quad-core processor to vendors for early look-see

Hardware vendors, which are just getting a first look at Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s next-generation server chip, are giving the Shanghai processor an initial thumbs-up, analysts said.

AMD is hoping the new hardware can help it rebound from the struggles that bogged down the company after it delayed the release of its Barcelona chip. The eight-month delay, caused by a glitch in the processor, lost the company market share, as well as mind-share, prior to Barcelona's ultimate release last spring.

Since then, AMD has been trying to get back on its feet, put its financial troubles behind it and get back in the game with rival Intel Corp.

An AMD spokesman confirmed today that the company has started shipping production-quality Shanghai chips to OEMs so they can make final validations.

Industry analysts said that shipping the quad-core server processor -- the company's first 45-nanometer chip -- to OEMs for an early look-see is a very good sign for AMD. The new Shanghai chip was originally scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2009, but AMD has pushed the ship date ahead to the fourth quarter of this year.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said that when Barcelona was in the works, AMD executives were distracted by the chip maker's acquisition of ATI Technologies Inc. during 2006. Now, with the acquisition settling in and new leadership at the helm of AMD, the focus is back on processors.

"The combination of the higher level of focus and the less risk that they're taking is resulting in them beating their own date," said Enderle, noting that the Shanghai chips may be cast on a new 45nm die but architecturally are quite similar to Barcelona. "Right now, the OEMs seemed to be pretty happy with it. One, it's showing up ahead of schedule, and it seems to be performing well against expectations. We're still at the front end of sampling, so we won't know how well it's performing for a few weeks yet, but so far, the OEMs like what they've seen," he added.

Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said an OEM told him that after an evaluation, it plans to use the chip in systems. "I think we're beyond the 'looking/evaluation' stage and into the 'let's build the systems that will use it' stage," he added. Olds noted that the vendor, which he declined to identify, plans to ship Shanghai-based systems as early as the fourth quarter of this year, but possibly in the first quarter of 2009.

While it's good for AMD to get Shanghai out on or ahead of schedule, it's also very good for the company to catch up to Intel in the 45nm race, noted Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research. Intel came out with its first 45nm processor family -- Penryn -- last November, a year before AMD's first 45nm chip.

"AMD's processor technology is still lagging behind Intel's a little bit," said McCarron, who added that he's also heard positive reviews -- from two OEMs. "The key piece is having it be current enough that they're not missing the big volume part of the curve. It's certainly helping AMD to catch up. Shanghai helps improve AMD's position in the server market."

News of AMD's new processor comes amid talk that the chip maker may be preparing to spin off its manufacturing operations into a separate company.

Last month, John Lau, senior semiconductor analyst and managing director of Jefferies & Co., told Computerworld that AMD is looking to spin off its fabrication plants into a separate company funded by a Middle East consortium. The company, according to Lau, will handle AMD's manufacturing but will also be free to build chips for other companies.

At the time, Lau predicted that AMD would announce the news on or around Sept. 15. That hasn't happened, but speculation about it is still swirling around the industry.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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