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Barcelona has arrived, sort of, and AMD is talking more about beating itself up than knocking Intel with the new chip.

AMD has finally set a firm ship date for the four-core processor, saying customers will receive 2.0GHz SE standard and 1.9GHz HE low-power parts in August. Systems from server makers should then start arriving in September, with a flood of boxes arriving in October. The chipmaker had claimed both a "mid-year" and "summer" ship date for Barcelona, so the product clearly arrives near the latter end of the expected range.

The tardiness of the chip has hurt AMD in a big way.

Intel managed to take the performance crown away from AMD with its four-core 'Clovertown' chips that have been shipping for months. These high-end products, along with improved dual-core chips, have helped Intel reclaim much of the market share it ceded to AMD over the past three to four years.

Now, the 2.0GHz versions of Barcelona seem to have AMD locked in a race with itself.

"We will be seeing a performance boost of 40-50 per cent above our highest frequency dual-core products that are available today," AMD VP Randy Allen told us.

AMD has spent much of the past few months, bragging that it would beat Clovertown by 40 per cent or so. As best as we can tell, however, those claims rely on faster versions of Barcelona that will ship in the fourth quarter.

"Our evaluations show us that we'll be able to quickly increase the frequencies in Q4," Allen said. "There will be a very steep increase."

Hmmm.

A cynic might suggest that AMD released the 2.0GHz chip on 'iPhone Friday' because the news isn't terrific. Basically, the chip maker is still just getting the Barcelona ball rolling, and you'll need to wait until Q4 for the real showstoppers said to top out around 2.5GHz.

Even at 2.0GHz, however, AMD has a "clearly superior performance per watt position against the competition", according to Allen. "Barcelona will outperform the competition for certain workloads and be very competitive across the board."

That's clearly not the blustery talk that AMD once dished out during Opteron's hey-day, and Allen concedes that we're in a tit-for-tat struggle now where AMD and Intel will leapfrog each other every few months.

That's mostly fine for AMD since it still just wants a large chunk of the server processor market that Intel had all to itself four years back.

Allen believes that a recent lull in chip purchases can be explained as "a one-time correction."

Customers flocked to x86 server chips as RISC replacements and enjoyed the miracles of software such as VMware. Now there's a bit of a digestion period going on where the customers try and come to grips with all the performance being thrown at them via dual- and quad-core chips.

"The innovation we've experienced over the past two years was unprecedented," Allen said.

The AMD executive expects that we'll soon see "a resumption of the historical patterns" around x86 chip purchases.

And that's the right attitude to have as you roll out a four-core beasty. ®

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