AMD: First Barcelona systems set to ship in April

Exec says systems running quad-core chips will be rolled out by various vendors by mid-year

The first systems running Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s new quad-core Barcelona chip are expected to hit the market in April, AMD executives said today.

Pushing the delayed processor out into the market will give the company a boost in what has been a lagging competition with rival Intel. Kevin Knox, vice president of AMD's commercial business, told Computerworld today that a series of hardware vendors, including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Dell Inc., will be launching Barcelona-based servers between now and the end of the second quarter.

On Monday, HP announced that its largest x86 server yet -- the eight-socket ProLiant DL785  equipped with quad-core Barcelona chips will ship in May. With eight sockets and quad-core chips, that means the server will be running 32 cores.

"We're pretty excited about that because it opens us up to a market we hadn't played heavily in before," said Knox, acknowledging that Barcelona is four to six months late because of an errata - or bug - that was discovered in the chip's Transition Lookaside Buffer (TLB).  "If you take a step back… this was a problem we discovered in a high-stress environment inside our labs. [Delaying it] was the right thing to do, the responsible thing to do."

Knox said the problems with Barcelona ended up as a big learning experience for AMD - one that will benefit its work on upcoming processors.

"We've had a lot of learnings from what we went through with Barcelona," he added. "We learned things about stress testing and working to figure out problems earlier in the processes… It pointed us to potential areas where there could be issues. The errata was around TLBs and that has a big impact on virtualization. The B2 has given us pretty strong learnings. We're actually feeling pretty good with the learnings from B2 and we're on track with B3."

AMD was talking about Barcelona systems hitting the market the day after Intel announced in a St. Patrick's Day press briefing that its six-core Dunnington will ship in the second half of this year. Knox said since there isn't a lot of software geared to take full advantage of four-cores yet, he's not too worried about their rival coming out with six at this point.

"Six cores is interesting," he noted. "Again, I'm not convinced there's a gigantic market of applications that want to exploit that number… We still believe we're going to be extremely competitive. When you look at the architecture things we've done, like hyper transport, that will make us extremely competitive, added to the fact that we'll have quad-core to compete against quad-core."

Knox also said that Shanghai, the next version of Opteron, is on track for release in the second half of this year. Shanghai will mark AMD's first move from a 65 nanometer (nm) manufacturing process to 45nm process. Intel moved to the 45nm process last November with the Penryn family of processors.

AMD's 45nm production is being done in its Fab 36 plant in Dresden, Germany. The new chips, code-named Shanghai for the server version and Deneb for the desktop, have already shipped to a "select list" of customers, Garry Silcott, a spokesman for AMD, said in an interview earlier this month.

Since Intel has been adding to its Penryn family of 45nm chips over the past several months, one analyst noted that it will be important for AMD to release its 45nm as soon as possible, analysts say.

"It's late, but it's not too late for AMD to come out with 45nm chips," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., said in a previous interview. "The degree to which these chips can compete with Intel depends on whether 'second half '08' means July or late December. If we're talking July, then this might allow them to pull back to parity with current Intel products. If we're talking December, or essentially the thirteenth month of '08 -- namely January -- then they're still firmly behind Intel."

Knox, though, said he's less concerned.

"Obviously, we want to get it out as quickly as possible," he added. "We want to get it right, though, more than we want to get it out quickly."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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