When I attended AMD technology day last Thursday, senior AMD managers poked fun at Intel's NetBurst architecture and the fact that Intel will be "going back to their previous generation architecture, and that would be an improvement". Most of the industry analysts in attendance began to laugh in the room and I couldn't quite figure out what's so funny and if they would still be laughing next month when Intel's Core2 architecture is released.
I asked some senior AMD managers what they were going to do It is beginning to look more and more certain that Intel's Core 2 architecture will "leap ahead"... when Intel releases their Core2 architecture next month and what they thought of the dire initial benchmarks posted at AnandTech and the response was "who set up the benchmarks" and more laughter ensued throughout the room. What everyone was laughing about was the fact that Intel had actually set up the test bed for those initial benchmarks, but what's forgotten is that AnandTech (responding to readers and critics) made Intel change certain aspects of Intel's test bed to address perceived inequities in the first set of tests. I say "perceived" inequities because in the end the changes didn't make a bit of difference and the results were just as bad for AMD's simulated FX-62 (without the faster socket and memory). Since these results were theoretical because the actual AM2 based FX-62 with faster memory access weren't being used and the test bed wasn't completely independent, we couldn't draw any decisive conclusions.
So last Friday when I saw the first set of independent benchmark results pitting a mid-end Intel E6600 "Conroe" 2.4 GHz CPU (due next month) against the just released flagship extreme edition AMD FX-62 CPU, I started wondering if AMD worst nightmare was coming true. Intel's ~$250 E6600 CPU annihilated AMD's ~$1000 Extreme Edition AM2 based FX-62! This effectively means that AMD's flagship desktop performance CPU will be obsolete by the end of next month when Intel released the CPUs codenamed Conroe. The 2.4 GHz Conroe E6600 CPU is a 65 watt part while Intel's Extreme Edition Conroe CPU will operate at 2.93 GHz and still be 40 watts lower than AMD's FX-62 which runs at 120 watt TDP. AMD's power advantage over Intel's current Pentium 4 NetBurst architecture just vanished in to thin air with the introduction of Intel's Core 2 architecture next month.
If that wasn't enough of a beating, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes who writes for our new "Hardware 2.0" blog linked to these phenomenal overclocking feats with the Conroe 2.4 and Conroe 2.6 GHz CPUs clocking to 4.0 GHz and 4.26 GHz respectively! I'm hearing that these kinds of numbers can be achieved with self-contained water coolers from multiple sources while the AMD FX-62 can barely get to 3.6 GHz with sub-zero temperatures. As Adrian pointed out, even AMD's "4x4" which is two dual core CPUs and two dual core GPUs is a stop gap measure that won't be practical since you can do just as well with a single mid-end Conroe 2.6 GHz CPU clocked to 4.26 GHz at 1/6th the price in CPU cost.
While I'm still eager to see more independent results that replicate these results, it is beginning to look more and more certain that Intel's Core 2 architecture will "leap ahead" as Intel's new slogan implies. AMD pointed out that they've been ahead of the game for 3 years (on most benchmarks and the results were always close) and it's inevitable for Intel to have a slight lead once in a while. The problem here is that this new Intel lead is not the usual leapfrogging where one competitor edges out the other, it's a massive lead across the board! AMD will be shifting to a 65 nm process by the end of the year and adding 128 bit floating point processors by the middle of next year though it's not certain if they can make a massive performance gain while making a massive reduction in power consumption.
Intel on the other hand told me that they won't be standing still and they don't ever intend to make the same mistake of allowing the NetBurst architecture to stay around for more than 4 years again. The Core 2 architecture will only be around for 2 more years until Intel shifts to something new. I asked Intel's representative if this is the kind of paranoia that would make Andy Grove proud and he laughed. The truth of the matter is that AMD is what's making Intel paranoid because they've taken a beating for the last 2 years at the hands of AMD. Who's going to win the processor wars doesn't matter because this is competition at its best and the consumer is the ultimate winner with better products at lower prices so let the wars begin!
[Update: 2:10 PM] David berlind wonders whether Intel has forever neutralized AMD's integrated memory controller advantage.