Getting to the bottom of the 3.0 GHz AMD quad-core demos

[Update 8/16/2007 - It has been confirmed that the photographs were shot the same day and sent out without an NDA.  The photo was not a "canned for the press" shot that my sources told me.

[Update 8/16/2007 - It has been confirmed that the photographs were shot the same day and sent out without an NDA.  The photo was not a "canned for the press" shot that my sources told me.]

There's been some controversy brewing over the issue of the 3.0 GHz "K10 Barcelona" desktop-variant quad core processors that were demoed at last Thursday's AMD analyst day.  Accusations on whether the chip was cherry picked or possibly even staged have been flying back and forth and Charlie Demerjian had some strong words to say about it and that they were definitely real.  There were questions raised because the initial photograph that made the rounds over the Tech news sites were identical and I was told that it was a "canned" photo sent out to various journalists the day before the analyst meeting with an NDA release date of noon the next day during the Analyst meeting [See update above].  AMD disputed the accusation that real photographs from the media were barred and pointed me to some of Charlie Demerjian's blog and photos and indeed it was true.  [Update 8/2/2007 - Kristopher Kubicki of DailyTech responds to Charlie Demerjian]

Demerjian also pointed out that the demos had conventional air coolers indicating that it wasn't a case of extreme overclocking and that these weren't picked out of a batch of "hundreds of thousands of chips".  But Demerjian admitted that these were sorted and tested out of a few chips to pick out the ones that would hit 3.0 GHz.  Furthermore, Demerjian's colleague Nebojsa Novakovic pointed out that no CPU-intensive benchmarks like Linpack (which would have fully loaded all four cores) were run nor were any benchmarks released.  Running a game isn't likely to put the same kind of stresses on an overclocked CPU so the demos, while real, weren't truly put to the test.  Furthermore, the 3.0 GHz quad core AMD "Phenom" chips don't appear on any roadmaps and the 2.6 GHz quad core Phenom processors won't launch until Q1 2008 and by that time Intel will be shipping 3.33 GHz "Penryn" quad core processors.  The actual AMD Barcelona server-variant chips will only be clocked at 2.0 GHz when they launch sometime in September.

Note: To give some more perspective, various overclockers had demoed air-cooled 3.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duos in Q3 2006 and 3.8 GHz Intel Core 2 quad cores in late 2006 and those were actually sold factory overclocked.  That doesn't mean Intel could actually ship upper 3 GHz parts and the top performing Intel Core 2 chips officially run at 3.0 GHz.  But the latest "Stepping G" manufacturing revision Intel Core 2 chips will apparently run at a cool 3.6 GHz without any voltage boosts and the overclocking forums are raving about it.

So the fact that AMD showed off a 3 GHz desktop-variant of a quad core "Barcelona" CPU at analyst day does lay to rest some of the fears that AMD can't scale Barcelona though the workloads that were shown didn't really stress the demo systems and no benchmarks have been released for the 3.0 GHz parts.  While this is certainly positive news for AMD, I have a hard time agreeing with Demerjian's conclusion that the folks at Intel where having "heart attacks" over this news given the roadmaps of the two companies.  The real challenge for AMD in the next six months is to start delivering some 2.6 GHz parts on time and even then it will have to face the onslaught of 45nm 3.33 GHz Penryn quad core processors.

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