Sep 25 2008

Chip Competition Revs Up

AMD and Intel up the ante in the processor market.

The chips wars continue between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, and while Intel is still the clear leader, AMD is more ambitious than ever.

AMD’s 12-core processor, targeted for the server market, is expected to ship in the first half of 2010. This new processor is a deviation from the planned 8-core chip. The 12-core processor — code-named Magny-Cours — will include 12 megabytes of level 3 cache and will support DDR3 RAM. AMD is making several modifications to the processor that will help it compete more effectively in the server market.

“Twelve-core chips will handle larger workloads better than 8-core chips and are easier to manufacture,” says Randy Allen, senior vice president, Computing Solutions Group at AMD.

AMD is also planning to release a 6-core processor in 2010 to complement the 12-core. The 6-core chip will be designed to meet the requirements of systems that do not need 12 cores. Code-named Sao Paulo, this chip will include 6MB of L3 cache and will also support DDR3 RAM. The new chips will be manufactured using a 45-nanometer process (already used by Intel in the manufacture of its current generation of processors), which should increase power efficiency.

Dean McCarron, an analyst and owner of Mercury Research, says AMD took into account financial and technical considerations when deciding to jump from 6-core chips to 12-core.  McCarron adds that doubling the size of its chips will let the company include more cores on each chip while delivering better product margins and lowering manufacturing costs. AMD's 12-core chip will contain two 6-core processors on individual chips in a single processor package, McCarron says. That is a more reasonable goal than including 12 cores on a single chip, which is more expensive to manufacture, he says.

In the second half of 2008, Intel will ship a 6-core Xeon server processor tagged Dunnington; only later will Intel shift to an 8-core processor. Intel shipped nearly 79 percent of all chips sold in the first quarter of 2008, while AMD held a 21 percent market share, a slight gain from the 19 percent market share it held in the first quarter of 2007.

Meanwhile, Intel is planning to launch its long-awaited Tukwila processor — the next-generation 65-nanometer Itanium processor. Tukwila has four cores, a 30MB total cache, QuickPath Interconnect, a dual integrated memory controller and mainframe-class RAS features. It will be the world's first 2 billion transistor microprocessor and is projected to deliver more than double the performance of the current generation of Itanium processors. Tukwila is currently targeted for production toward the end of 2008 or the first quarter of 2009.

Intel demonstrated the Tukwila at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ International Solid-State Circuits Conference in February. The processor has three times as many transistors as the current Intel dual-core Itanium 9000 (dubbed Montvale). Some reports claim the Tukwila will have a thermal design power of 170 watts. The current generation has a TDP of 104 watts (down from the 130 watts of earlier Itanium chips).

With so many new processors and technologies coming from both AMD and Intel, the next few years in the server market are going to be intense. IBM is at work on new server products as well, including one that could revolutionize the computing industry: photonic-chip technology, which promises to accelerate performance considerably while using significantly less energy.

Iddo Genuth is the editor of the electronic magazine The Future of Things at www.thefutureofthings.com.


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