Yesterday what appeared on the surface to be good news for Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) landed. The company announced [press release] that it was shipping the world’s first 16-core server CPUs to retailers and OEMs, with product expected to hit end users sometime in October.
I. Can You Handle 16 Cores of Power?
The new chips use a new 32 nm core design dubbed Bulldozer, which AMD hopes will do the trick in remedying slumping server-side revenue. While Interlagos technically is a 16-core CPU, the term is a bit confusing as it lacks certain elements you would expect in a full 16-core implementation.
The chip is built on Bulldozer modules, which contain a pair of processing cores. However, the module only has a single floating point processing unit (FPU) and fetch/decode/execute unit to share between the two processing cores.
This is a bit different from Intel Corp. (INTC), who incorporates a full FPU and fetch/decode/execute unit with every core. The net result is that performance may not be quite as high as you would expect out of a 16-core chip.
Each chip comes with a quad-channel memory controller.
The new cores will be branded the FX-6200 series. AMD still hasn’t updated their product page to include information on this new lineup, but we expect them to do so shortly. The new cores are pin-compatible with AMD’s Socket G34 (Magny-Cours/Opteron 6100) motherboards.
Information on pricing and clock speeds is still not generally available, nor are comprehensive third-party benchmarks. However, one can expect a slightly lower clock speed due to the high core count, which would mean strong performance in highly multithreaded apps, but less spectacular performance in primarily serial apps. Given the target, though — business users — this should be an acceptable compromise as most heavy corporate server loading is multi-threaded these days.
AMD says that Interlagos will be compatible with dual- and quad-socket server motherboards, indicating that you may be able to pack up to 64 cores onto a single board. If that’s not enough, AMD’s 2012 Terramar platform will include up to 20 cores per die.
Interlagos is expected to see strong pickup among supercomputer makers due to the high core-density per motherboard. Cray, Inc. (CRAY), a top supercomputer maker, was the first company to receive a shipment of the new chips.
II. Zambezi, Wither Art Thou?
While Interlagos is nearing the market, AMD has grown decidedly quiet about Zambezi, the four, six, and eight core desktop processors that work supposed to launch in Q3 2011. One problem may be clock speeds.
Given the core count AMD may be able to get away with a lower clocked Interlagos offering, but it will face substantial criticism on the desktop end, if it fails to deliver its promised relatively high clock speeds, which were supposed to be 3.6 GHz (normal), 4.2 GHz (turbo) for the FX-8150 octacore chip.
At this point it’s all rumors, but the critical thing is that Zambezi is nowhere to be found even as Intel’s Ivy Bridge platform — its first to feature its new power-saving 3D transistor design — races towards a 2012 launch.
III. New Fusion Chips Land
While AMD may be struggling on the high end of the PC market, it’s certainly taken the low end by storm with its Fusion CPU+GPU chips. Alongside the announcement of Interlagos availability, AMD quietly announced the availability of new Fusion Llano series advanced processing unit (APU) designs.
The first chip, the A4-3300 is priced at a sweet $70, includes dual 32 nm Stars (Phenom II architecture) cores clocked at 2.5 GHz and with 2 MB of L2 cache and a 160 unified shader GPU. The chip draws 65 watts.
The second chip, the A4-3400 comes with an identical GPU, but bumps the clock speed to 2.7 GHz, and the price to $75. Both chips fully support DDR3 1600 memory.
Given the price, you may see these chips ending up in designs priced as low as $200-$300. At that price they should experience market traction. Thus AMD continues to dominate the low to mid-market, while failing to deliver competitive high-end CPU product, on the PC side at least.
While AMD has stated that it intended Llano primarily as a budget desktop chip, the chips are currently available from Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) exclusively in OEM laptop builds. Discrete offerings for do-it-yourself desktop builds should be available shortly.
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