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'You'd have to be nuts' to think AMD can match our tick – Intel

Eyeing Sun's Niagara flow

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Gelsinger's bravado stems from Intel's recent release of four-core chips, and the company's ability to pull in some of the "tick" designs such as low voltage chips that cater to a specific part of the server market.

Looking ahead, Intel may have more niche chips in store. The company has watched Sun's release of the multi-core UltraSPARC T1. Sun moves close to $100m per quarter of UltraSPARC T1-based boxes, making the servers a breakthrough for the company after years of stagnation.

Gelsinger questioned whether such sales figures warrant calling the UltraSPARC T1 a success by asking, "You call that a success?"

But, the chip seems to have done well enough to get Intel thinking. The company may well produce its own low GHz, multi-core server part targeted at web and application serving.

"We are looking at it," Gelsinger said.

Intel, however, doesn't seem ready yet to go as far as Sun's upcoming 16-core Rock design. That chip will appear in 2008 and compete with IBM's dual-core Power6 chip and likely a four-core version of Itanium from Intel. For the first time in quite awhile, high-end server customers will see serious diversity on the processor front.

Throughput monsters

For Intel, single thread performance remains a focus in the Unix – or mainframe replacement, as Gelsinger calls it – part of the market. So, the chipmaker expects its Itanium cores to be speedier than those found in Rock. In fact, Gelsinger relegated Sun's Rock systems to the realm of specialized "throughput monsters." Intel appears to be assuming that Sun will keep its deal in place with Fujitsu over the long-haul for more mainstream versions of SPARC.

Gelsinger conceded that Intel would like to win back some of the high performance computing (HPC) business it lost to AMD over the past two years. The openness of AMD's architecture has prompted third parties to create products such as FPGAs that slot right into Opteron sockets – that's attractive to the HPC crowd.

AMD's play forced Intel to open up with the company announcing similar FPGA deals with Xilinx and Altera in September, as first reported by The Register.

"Part of the reason we did that was to counter some of those wins," Gelsinger said.

The company will announce more similar licensing deals "when we move to our next generation architecture (in 2008) as well," the executive added.

Intel's greatest mistake over the past two years was "letting (AMD) in" to markets once owned by the giant. "It is a struggle now," said Dadi Perlmutter, Intel's mobile chip SVP.

With its clock all wound up, Intel thinks it can make the best out of today's new reality. The company will try to thwart analyst predictions of AMD taking as much as 40 per cent market share in the server processor segment from coming true. Rather, Intel hopes to beat AMD down from where it stands today. ®

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