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Second-class Intel to trail AMD for years

Parity prayers aimed at 2009

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Suspension of Dell-belief

Compare this scenario to one being espoused last week by Dell Chairman Michael Dell.

"Intel takes a very definitive lead in performance and power management at 65 nanometers," Dell said at a conference, according to a report from IDG News Service. "If we thought AMD was going to be supercompetitive in the spring and fall of next year, we'd be introducing AMD products right now."

(Such bravado seems laughable given that Dell's own statements indicate AMD has a supercompetitive position now and that Dell still chooses not to use the products.)

Dell's statement came before Intel reworked its roadmap. At the time, Dell's logic seemed plausible. Intel was set to release a new line of dual-core Xeon chips in 2006 that, while lacking an integrated memory controller, could well rival Opteron in performance. Then, the industry assumed, Intel would follow these chips with the 2007 dynamos.

In that scenario, Intel supporters could easily justify sticking with their man. The dual-core Xeons might not win on every benchmark and they might not be performance per watt gods, but they'd compete well enough against Opteron to stop massive defections. That would hold things steady for 18 months or so.

A more middle-of-the-road scenario painted by Xeon and Opteron supporter HP placed the dual-core Xeon and Opteron chips on pretty even ground in the two-way server market but gave a real edge to Opteron in the four-way server market where AMD's direct connect plays a more significant role.

"Dempsey, Intel's dual-core Xeon for servers with two processors, should be very close in performance to Opteron," IDG News Service reported, basing the remarks on comments from Mario Cooper, a manager of HP's ProLiant servers. "AMD's advantage over Intel's designs are more pronounced in servers with four processors, and the Opteron 800 series should have a clear advantage over Intel's Tulsa processor early next year."

Now, however, this tit-for-tat squabble has changed.

As stated, Intel will struggle to match Opteron in the next 18 months but instead of rolling out Opteron killers in 2007, Intel will introduce more processors tied down by its aging architecture dependencies. The company does not have a realistic chance of besting Opteron on typical server benchmarks until the new chips arrive in 2009. By that time, AMD will have new four-core designs of its own and who knows what other innovations.

Itanium customers meanwhile face near-term delays, and must use the same costly architecture they're stuck with today until 2009.

The great news for Intel is that its failings seem to have relatively little impact on its revenue. The money keeps rolling in as AMD tries to help customers certify its hardware and related software for corporate data center use. AMD gains a point of market share here and there but has yet to stump Intel's Xeon business in the massive way that many predicted.

Intel's missteps will certainly challenge this trend. It's hard to believe that Intel's customers won't start thinking "enough is enough." ®

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