Where is AMD's Intel-killer Barcelona?

Where is AMD's Intel-killer Barcelona?

Summary: Back in May when speculation on AMD's "Barcelona" quad-core CPU was still running rampant, I wrote that "AMD Barcelona can potentially smash Intel" if high clock speeds at sufficient yields could be produced in a timely manner.  AMD needed to hit 2.

TOPICS: Processors, Intel

Back in May when speculation on AMD's "Barcelona" quad-core CPU was still running rampant, I wrote that "AMD Barcelona can potentially smash Intel" if high clock speeds at sufficient yields could be produced in a timely manner.  AMD needed to hit 2.5 GHz to reclaim the performance crown and release the product on time in July to give it some breathing room before Intel strikes back with its new 45nm "Penryn" processor at the end of the year.  Now that it has been confirmed that AMD will miss their original Barcelona release date by at least 2 months and the best clock speed they can do is 2.0 GHz, the future is looking grim for AMD.  With shocking news like this it's no wonder AMD decided to announce Barcelona's release schedule and clock speeds on iPhone Friday.

Based on AMD's own claims, the quad-core CPU codenamed "Barcelona" will have a 20% clock-for-clock advantage on Integer performance over Intel's "Clovertown" quad-core CPU.  [UPDATE 7/4/2007 - The 20% clock-for-clock advantage claimed by AMD is actually a 1% clock-for-clock advantage in the dual-socket 8-core Server space.  Intel holds a much stronger clock-for-clock position with fewer core tests since that doesn't put as much a strain on their shared memory controller and FSB architecture.]  The problem is that the Intel's 3.0 GHz quad-core CPUs have a 50% clock speed advantage so a 20% [UPDATE 7/4/2007 - actually a 1% clock-for-clock advantage] clock-for-clock advantage doesn't come close to beating Intel.  At this rate the only thing that Barcelona is going to smash are AMD's existing dual-core CPUs and last year's Intel dual-core products.  By the time AMD releases the Barcelona product in September, Intel would have had nearly a full year's lead in quad-core CPUs and it's no wonder AMD has lost nearly all of its market share gains in just the last year.

Based on the paper AMD released at the ISSCC in March, it came to light that AMD's Barcelona CPU had electrical capabilities that permitted a maximum clock speed of 2.8 GHz.  At the height of the speculation on Barcelona in May, Charlie Demerjian reported that AMD was "dancing in the aisles" in Austin Texas because early indicators for Barcelona was so good that it would hit a whopping 2.9 GHz for a desktop part and 2.8 GHz for a Server part.  That post fueled a lot of stories and cheers for AMD watchers but in hindsight it was couldn't have been more wrong.

I asked CPU analyst David Kanter (Real World Technologies) what could be the problem behind AMD's failure to deliver an Intel killer and Kanter came up with the following three possibilities.

  1. Manufacturing cannot get the frequency high enough
  2. There are speed paths that prevent higher clocking
  3. You can hit high frequencies, but not within the TDP

Kanter noted that all those statements have an implied "with good yields" at the end.  Manufacturing problems shouldn't be surprising since that has always been an Achilles heel for AMD.  As for the second possibility, Kanter explained that "Speed paths" mean that certain parts of the CPU can't handle higher clock speeds even though the rest of the CPU can.  Then there's the possibility that manufacturing can hit the desired clock rates but with unacceptable amounts of leakage.

These problems may all just be temporary and AMD will eventually iron out the bumps and produce high quantities of higher clocked Barcelona CPUs, but time isn't on AMD's side when Intel's tick-tock cadence keeps ticking away.  If AMD manages to release higher clocked Barcelona CPUs closer to the end of the year, Intel will raise the bar even higher when it releases the Penryn processor.

Topics: Processors, Intel

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  • If AMD can't beat Intel's Penryn out the door

    it's game over for AMD.
    • Not neccessarily

      AMD will be around, I'm sure. Worst case is they get bought by a Samsung or something and Intel will have competition.

      From a Barcelona perpsective, Barcelona is an aggressive, difficult design that they will solve eventually and likely to be a successful product. Barcelona could always compete on energy (clock it down), compete on cost (give up margin) and sell to all the AMD bleeding hearts out there.

      Unfortunately for AMD, time is running out in terms of cash and Intel's aggressive product and tech line up. I hope AMD recovers because I would hate a Samsung or some Chinese outfit buy them out.
      • Why would Samsung buy a company that cannot compete?

        It doesn't matter how aggressive the Barcelona design is. Intel is not static. All the fanboys make the same mistake. They think their product is evolving but the competition isn't until their product hits the market. Barcelona will only be a me too for a few months and be surpassed by 45nm tech from Intel.
        • The huge IP portfolio?

          The perpetual license to make x86 chips?
          ATI's 28% market share in the consumer graphics market?

          AMD are slow to market because their resources are limited compared to those of Intel. A company with sufficient capital could take what AMD has and turn it into a powerhouse.

          It's much more likely that they'd downsize and rearrange their business model around the ATI chips but there are many reasons to buy a failing company with valuable IP.
          • They would have to buy it dirt cheap.

            But if AMD cannot make any money making 86 chips, neither could the folks buying it up. ATI and the patents would be the only incentive if the package was very cheap. Even ATI is not as attractive as the IP. Otherwise it would be more profitable to invest in something else. Look at all the hardware companies that disappeared in the 90s. Bottom line is what determines decisions. Nobody rescues anybody.
        • Computers are about to get more expensive.

          If Intel no longer has any competition, they will slow down their R&D, charge more for their product, increase their dividend, and buy back stock. I think I'm going to put a lot more Intel stock in my portfolio. But I'm also going to paying more for computers in the long run.
          • That is not all bad.

            Right now there is razor thin profits in the industry and people in that industry have a harder time making any money. People do not even repair their computers anymore. They just throw them out and buy a new one filling land fills. Maybe more of us repair techs can make more money. Another thing is the market cannot bear any increase in prices so it will not go up to much if AMD goes under. I was happy with AMD products but they decided to come out with 50 different models milking the Athlon line instead of 1/2 dozen models and more R&D. They rested on their laurels too long. GM did the same with repeat designs and Oldsmobile no loner exists. No more money in treasuries to carry on like this.
          • Maybe not.

            Sure, if AMD gets wiped off the face of the earth, maybe then Intel will feel free to jack prices. I doubt AMD is going to get wiped off the face of the earth, as some have pointed out a worst case scenario might be AMD getting bought out by another firm.

            The only way you can consider that Intel could afford to increase prices of their processors by so much that it would make an entire PC noticeably more expensive is if you honestly believe there really isn't room for two CPU manufacturers in the market place, and AMD is going to be wiped out and no one will be able to step into their shoes.

            Consider; a PC that uses a fairly high end Intel CPU might cost, lets say $1200 for a nice tower, the CPU might only run about $300 of that, a 30% increase in the CPU would add $90 to the price of the tower, you still need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, speaker system, OS, a $90 increase is not a very big increase, most people wouldn't worry or even notice that kind of increase on a system that cost $1500 or more.

            I have to think your not talking about a 30% increase in CPU price, perhaps more like at least an 80%-100% or more increase in an Intel CPU price. That of course would put the price of the afore mentioned $1500 system up to as much as $1800. And I agree that that would be rude.

            But if you think for one minute that AMD wouldn't suddenly become very competitive (or any company that purchased them) with Intel, if AMD didn't have to compete with Intel's current excellent pricing scheme your nuts.

            Far too many people seem to forget a very very important fact about Intel's current dominance. Sure Intel is producing some very powerful outstanding CPU's right now, but that alone would not get them anywhere if it wasn't for one very important thing. They are dirt cheap for the performance level. A year and a half ago I couldn't get an old PD 3.4 for as cheap as a new Core 2 Duo 3.0 today. That is a massive hurdle for AMD to overcome. The price for performance increase Intel has struck is lethal to AMD and thats what is killing them.

            Let Intel jack their wonderful $300 CPU up to $600 and watch how great a $400 AMD CPU sells all of a sudden. Lets not forget, AMD CPU's are not bad, they are just not as good as Intel's right now. If you cant afford a $600 CPU that $400 one looks just great if it performs within reasonable price/cost standards.

            Don't bet the house on computer prices taking a big jump any time soon.
  • AMD has almost always been slightly behind intel

    Everywhere I have been Intel was the standard. I think as long as AMD is close in speed and slightly cheaper, there will be room in the market for them. To say that they are "done" is overboard. AMD has proven to produce reliable chips with a price advantage over Intel. I also like the idea of having more than one company as a choice.
    • Have you seen AMD's recent sales numbers?

      Almost as good isn't working...
    • AMD was in front of Intel for a while IMO

      In regards to price/performance on the desktop processor end, I think AMD had an edge up on Intel starting back at the K6-2, and continuing with the Athlon line. However, Core 2 Duo clearly put a swift end to that.
    • Problem is...

      Until recently AMD had a market for lower cost processors because Intel charged much more for their line. With the Core 2 Duos, Intel came out of the gate with a very low price point so for AMD to come in with a low enough price to entice the bargain shoppers they're going to be making very little money, if any.
    • That's all true, but I'm not sure they can pay their bills like that

      That's all true, but I'm not sure they can pay their bills like that. Things look pretty dire now but then again AMD has been in bad positions before.
  • Real World IT?...Please...

    I've been reading your articles for a while. It's obvious you don't know anything about "Real World IT". Maybe "Real Intel Home Computing".
    Every article you do is just a standard benchmark of an Intel system. Or, how an Intel overclocks better than an AMD. Sorry, in "Real World IT" overclocking is out and price and performance is in.
    George, stick to what you know. Home computers and Intel overclocking. Stay away from the "Real World"
    • Actually, George is right on the money

      Me thinks you;re a sore loser. Intel's clock advantage has nothing to do with overclocking so you totally made that up and grasping at straws.

      From a price and performance point of view, Intel wins. Performance a clear Intel win. Price? Well, for one, AMD's has nothing to sell in quad core so what's your point?
      • Show by a raise of hands ...

        I don;t know about you boys, but unless you have a "real" need for quad-core, what is the point. I don't need or use dual core for most of my applications, and I think that that is true of most other users. Does any of the popular O/S's even support dual-core well? Now we are going to start quiping about the great quad-cores? What O/S and application combinations exist today that will really take advantage of the quad-core? I don't know, and that is why I am asking. Does Vista support them? How about any of the *nix distros?

        So, if the processor is not really supported, then who "really" cares?
        jc williams
        • You're wrong on all counts

          1. Quad-core CPUs will soon cost the same as single-core processors cost a year ago. So think of it as a free upgrade. If cars got twice as powerful every 18 months while consuming half the gasoline and costing the same, I'd be screaming for joy.

          2. Dual-core and quad-core processors are supported by all versions/editions of Windows XP and Vista. The CPU licensing restriction is based on sockets, not cores per socket.

          3. All the *NIX distros support SMP.
    • Yeah!! Because it's obvious

      that you know everything there is to know about everything.

      Nobody is forcing you to read anything George puts up, so if you don't like it, keep walking. How hard is that?
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • never said

        I knew everything. But, I have worked with several high-end and mid-sized systems running AMD and Intel. In general, AMD has been able to move more data per cycle than Intel. This isn't always the fact and Intel has of late caught up.
        Once again, I'm talking "Real World IT". I'm talking about simulations and data mining not a Quake 3 benchmark.

        I like to get all points of view, but sometimes I have to call BS.
        • We see the same thing-AMD just works better

          Intel may run a better benchmark, but in real world throughput, they don't hold a candle to our AMD servers. Intel's FSB is a real hindrance to getting work done in the system.

          Using virtualization, where the hypervisor moves processes around between processors, makes this even worse as the pre-fetch doesn't hit and data must be reacquired from memory. Hypertransport and the efficiency of the on-die memory controller reveal themselves in these situations. We run out of memory on our AMD virtual hosts before we run out of processor capacity.

          We've also had IVR telephony software that was CPU bound on Intel boxes but only consumed about 30% CPU when moved to 2-socket, dual core, HP DL385s. MS Exchange is also very memory intensive and yet our AMD servers are just snoozing.

          In performance per watt, and power management, Intel is still playing catch-up. Don't tell me about how many watts Intel's CPU uses. Find out what the underlying chipsets and FB-DIMMs consume on that Intel platform and get back to me.
          Uber Dweeb