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Issue Date: August 2007

Intel-AMD quad-core war escalates

August 2007
Timothy Prickett Morgan

The exchange of fire between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices continues in their chip war today. Intel is putting out two more quad-core Xeon processors for servers and workstations in the wake of AMD finally setting a real launch date for its 'Barcelona' quad-core Opteron processors, aimed at the same machinery.

Last week, AMD pushed the clock speed of its dual-core Opterons up to 3,2 GHz and cut prices on single-core Rev E Opterons by between 18% and 32%, and chopped prices on its dual-core Rev F Opterons by between 17% and 30%. These moves are an effort to keep Intel at bay until the Barcelona chips arrive.
Intel was ready for that move, and on Monday it will put two more Xeon chips into the field. The first is a high-end 'Clovertown' Xeon X5365 chip, which Intel has cranked up to 3 GHz and which has a 1,3 GHz front side bus. The other is a 2 GHz low-voltage Clovertown.
All Clovertown chips are what are sometimes called 'quasi' quad core chips, in that they are really just two dual-core chips put side-by-side in a single chip package and sharing a single CPU socket.
AMD has tried to make a lot of hay out of the difference between a 'real' quad-core chip, such as the Barcelona Opteron design - which really does have four cores on a single chip die - and such quasi quads. And while these benefits will no doubt be demonstrated at the Barcelona launch, they perhaps may not be as significant as getting a technically less elegant quad-core product to market nine months ahead of the competition, as Intel has done with the Clovertowns.
The server market is crazy about increasing performance in the same thermal envelope these days and a lot less interested in how it gets done. Intel did not listen about 64-bit memory extensions to the X86 chip, and AMD used that against Intel. This time around, with quad core designs, Intel did not leave AMD an opening at the same time that AMD's schedule slipped.
While this new X5365 Xeon processor is not exactly cool in that it has a thermal design point of 120 watts, it does provide a significant performance boost over the prior Xeon X5355 part, which runs at 2,67 GHz. The regular top-end Xeon 5300 series chip is the Xeon E5345, which runs at 2,33 GHz and has the same 1,3 GHz front side bus, but which only consumes 80 watts of juice.
Intel also has slower 80-watt parts (which have lower prices, too), and two low-voltage variants that run at 1,6 GHz and 1,86 GHz and which have a 50 watt TDP. The new low-voltage part being announced today alongside the Xeon X5365 is the Xeon L5335, which runs at a slightly faster 2 GHz and which has the same 50 watt TDP. None of Intel's microprocessors include an on-chip main memory controller, which consumes roughly 20 watts of juice.
The 3 GHz Xeon X5365 chip costs $1172 in 1000-unit quantities, while the L5335 costs $380 per 1000.
AMD's standard dual-core Opteron part now runs at 3 GHz, and the quad-core Barcelona is expected to debut at only 2 GHz, eventually rising to faster speeds as 2007 comes to a close. Obviously, AMD wants to get the Barcelona clocks up to 3 GHz as fast as it can while staying within the 95 watt thermal envelope of its standard parts. By doing so, AMD might be able to show some performance benefits compared to the Clovertowns.
The Barcelona chip is also expected to offer sophisticated power management and virtualisation features not available in the Clovertowns, which should also help AMD's competitive position a bit. But, the fact remains that in the past 18 months, Intel has substantially closed a huge performance, thermal, and technology gap that allowed AMD to increase its market share significantly in the X64 processor market for servers and workstations. All of AMD's Opteron chips have on-chip memory controllers, so you have to take that into account when comparing TDP ratings for X64 processors.
In related news, AMD has sent out invitations for an event on 10 September for 'the most anticipated premiere of 2007'. There is very little doubt that this is the official Barcelona Opteron launch, although AMD did not, as usual, confirm this. A lot of the market was under the impression that the Barcelona chips were coming in August, and the rumour only a month ago was late for a late August launch, just ahead of the Labor Day holiday. But for whatever reason, AMD has pushed the event to after the official end of the summer season.
Source: Computergram


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