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AMD Istanbul - Time for something new already?

A question of qualification

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Qualification is in the eye of the beholder

Naturally, AMD says it's unwise to write off Istanbul. John Fruehe, director of business development for server and workstation products at AMD, argues that because it plugs into an existing platform, Istanbul will requires a relatively short qualification. Maybe three months. Meanwhile, Maranello will take significantly longer to qualify - thus widening the gap beyond 8 to 10 months.

"Because customers are going to take a while to qualify these Magny-Cours and Lisbon platforms, you'll expect to see Istanbul having a pretty good lifecycle," Fruehe tells The Reg. "Last quarter, we did a fairly good business still selling some dual-core processors, because people standardize things and they don't like to go ripping things out and changing things."

That's one way to spin it. But the new platform isn't that different from the existing setup. The guts of the Magny-Cours and Lisbon processors are very similar to the company's current chips - the cores, caches, and so forth - even if the memory controller is being upgraded to DDR3 support and the sockets are being differentiated from the current Rev F.

Whatever the case, Fruehe says Istanbul will enjoy a healthy life after the debut of the Magny-Cours family. "We expect there will still be a market for Istanbul, whether it's somebody who has already qualified it and that's what they want to keep deploying, or someone who is in the process of deploying the new platform but just isn't ready to make that move yet."

The Rev F socket was introduced in August 2006, and it has a five-year lifespan, so that means AMD will keep supporting it until the summer of 2011 - and possibly longer if the transition to the G34 and C32 platforms takes a while. But that probably does not mean the company will create an eight-core kicker to Istanbul.

AMD never had any plans of creating an eight-core Rev F processor. Even the eight-core 'Montreal' Opteron - supposedly killed off in March 2008, when AMD decided to create two distinct Opteron families with distinct chipsets and core counts - was intended to be a Socket G chip.

Whether the sales opportunity window is small or not, AMD has little choice to try to shake down revenues - even in this poor economy. Just like Intel did with its less-than-impressive 'Dempsey' Xeon chips, which debuted in May 2006 with an old processor architecture crammed into a new server platform, a platform that didn't really make sense until the kicker 'Woodcrest' Xeons came out in June of that year with much better performance and thermals. And the Woodcrest chips didn't start appearing in platforms until September.

"So the pace we're going at is not that different from our competitor," says Fruehe, "and because Istanbul is in the same Rev F socket, we think it's less disruptive to developers."

AMD will sell whatever it's got on the truck - just like Intel has done in the past and will do in the future.

And maybe the processors aren't the thing to worry about. With neither Broadcom nor nVidia making chipsets that compete with the G34 and C32 - and AMD coming out with its first chipsets since the original Opteron launch back in 2003 - the chipset support for the Magny-Cours processors could be more of a concern than anything else.

If AMD gets the chips right but flubs the chipsets, that will be a disaster for the company and a cause for celebration for Intel. Keep an eye on that 'Fiorano' platform and AMD's homegrown SR5690/SP5100 chipset. They're designed specifically for the Istanbul processors, and they're undoubtedly a dry run for the G34 and C32 chipsets. ®

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