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AMD praying ‘Barcelona’ makes up for four-core mistake

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Exclusive Bruised by a resurgent Intel, AMD wishes it had tackled the four-core era with a different approach. The chipmaker stands behind the technical merits of pumping out a so-called native four-core chip with all four cores on the same piece of silicon.

It, however, admits that Intel gained a major marketing edge by melding a pair of dual-core processors with a multi-chip module (MCM) when it released the "Clovertown" version of Xeon last year. That four-core chip allowed Intel to claim a server processor technology milestone ahead of AMD for the first time in about three years.

“If I could do something different, I wish we would have immediately done a MCM - two dual cores and call it a quad-core,” said Mario Rivas, an EVP at AMD, during a recent interview in Austin, “because, I guess, the market sucks it up.”

Before Clovertown, AMD enjoyed one of the more remarkable runs in server chip marketing and production. It beat Intel to 64-bit extensions for x86 chips and then nailed the release of mainstream, dual-core chips. Besides hitting these milestones, AMD clobbered Intel’s Xeon on overall performance and performance per watt - two of the server world’s favored metrics.

While a high-end part such as Clovertown misses the mainstream, it has proved popular enough with the most demanding customers and analysts to toss the technology and marketing edge back toward Intel. Recent sales figures show that Intel has regained server processor share from AMD, and Intel has shown leading performance on a wide variety of benchmarks.

So, AMD is going retro with its upcoming release of the four-core Barcelona chip, hoping to tap into the momentum of yesteryear.

“Barcelona is as much of event in the x86 world as Opteron was when we launched it,” Rivas said.

Other AMD executives have used this line in recent months, although we’re not sure the pitch fits.

The release of Opteron, as mentioned, gave AMD the first 64-bit x86 chip. More importantly, it turned AMD into a real contender in the server market for the first time.

Barcelona seems like less of a game changer. At the most basic level, it’s simply a better performing chip than today’s dual-core Opterons. AMD expects the processor to provide a 40 per cent surge on most software loads and a much higher boost on floating point-heavy software. Best of all, the chip slides right into existing systems.

AMD hopes to continue the socket compatibility with the four-core follow-on to Barcelona called Shanghai and the eight-core follow-on Montreal - a tidbit you may consider a Register exclusive.

El Reg: Will the upcoming chips Shanghai and Montreal be socket compatible as well?

MR: Yes. That’s the goal. We have not released detailed specs that I know of on those two devices, but that (strategy) has served us well.

Rivas declined to discuss what might happen with Bulldozer - meant to be a native eight-core chip - but hinted that “we have analyst day coming up, and I don’t want to share any more than I have to (before that).”

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