Did AMD Barcelona and Intel Tigerton really 'launch'?

AMD officially launched the "Barcelona" quad-core processor last month in San Francisco, but people are telling me that the systems are nowhere to be seen from any of the major server manufacturers nor is there any time line given for availability.  To see if there is any merit to these complaints, I posed as a prospective IT shopper and called up some of the major Server makers such as HP, Dell, and IBM to see if I can actually order a server with AMD Barcelona inside of it.
Written by George Ou, Contributor

AMD officially launched the "Barcelona" quad-core processor last month in San Francisco, but people are telling me that the systems are nowhere to be seen from any of the major server manufacturers nor is there any time line given for availability.  To see if there is any merit to these complaints, I posed as a prospective IT shopper and called up some of the major Server makers such as HP, Dell, and IBM to see if I can actually order a server with AMD Barcelona inside of it.  Intel officially launched their "Tigerton" 7300 series multi-processor (4-32 CPUs) platform less than a week before AMD's Barcelona so I was curious if those systems were shipping too and I checked on its availability as well. 

Experience with HP HP was probably the easiest of all to get answers from.  I went to HP.com and clicked on the live chat button and within a minute I was chatting with someone.  I asked about servers and waited another few minutes to get redirected to someone who worked with the server products.  The rep didn't have immediate information on servers based on AMD's Barcelona or Intel's 7300 series processors so he had to do a bit of checking and asking around.  After a couple of minutes, the HP rep tells me that servers based on Intel 7300 series processors were available for order now, but they wouldn't ship until November.  As for servers based on AMD "Barcelona", nothing was known about the availability and there was no ETA.

Experience with Dell I went to Dell's website and had a relatively harder time finding a way of contacting Dell by chat or by phone.  I finally found a phone number to call but when I called, I got someone on the phone who didn't really seem to be the right person to be talking to.  I kept asking about servers and he kept asking me "is that like a DSL router or something".  I said no, servers, you know, those things in data centers?  Those things that IT managers buy?  Can you transfer me to enterprise pre-sales?  Finally after a minute or two the man transfers me but I got a recording asking me if I wanted printer ink cartridges.  By this point I started wondering if this type of customer service has something to do with some of Dell's problems.

I finally get a lady on the phone but she didn't seem much better than the first guy but she finally transferred me to the right person.  Unfortunately, this gentleman had a ton of questions to ask me like name, business, how many desktops I was expecting to buy next year and etc etc.  I was getting annoyed and just wanted to ask about servers so finally after about 20 minutes on the phone, I was told that someone will call me in 24 to 48 hours.  I got called the next day last Friday but it was my day off and it was a bad time to talk so I asked them to call back on Monday.  I got called back Monday and I asked about AMD "Barcelona" Opteron quad-core based servers and Intel "Tigerton" 7300 series based processors.  Dell's rep told me that the Opteron quad-core systems were delayed and that more information would be available in November.  The servers based on Intel 7300 series processors could be ordered now though an exact ship date couldn't be given.

Experience with IBM IBM's website had an easy to find button that took you to a page where you could fill in your phone number for someone to call you back.  No one was available that day since I spent too much time with Dell and it was already 4:30 PM Pacific time so I scheduled IBM to call me the next day at 12 noon Pacific but that call never came.  I hadn't heard back from IBM since.

Checking in with Sun I also emailed Sun's media spokesperson asking them about their AMD Barcelona servers and Intel Tigerton servers (I did not pose as a regular customer.  I went through Sun's press relations channels).  Sun officially launched their 2U "Tigerton" 7300 series servers two weeks ago.  Sun's spokesperson explained that the Intel Tigerton 7300 series based 2U server would be available later this month.  As for the 2U Barcelona servers Sun previewed at the AMD launch event, I was told those servers had not been officially launched yet and that no ETA could be given at this point which is pretty much in line with HP and Dell's response.

Some luck with white-box system builders I happened by my local computer vendor KSC which builds white-box workstation and server systems for some unrelated computer parts and I noticed they had a 4-socket Barcelona system sitting on the shelf getting ready to be shipped to one of their customers.  I asked them for details and they explained that it was an Opteron model 8347 1.9 GHz 4-socket server with 32 4-GB DIMMs based on a SuperMicro motherboard.  I also found that you could order the 1.9 GHz Opteron 2347 from Newegg.com but that is the only model you can order.  Not many IT shops build their own servers from scratch and the vast majority of them only buy from the major server makers.  Barcelona supposedly launched at 2.0 GHz (originally suppose to be 2.6 GHz), but it looks like 1.9 GHz is the only model available to white-box system builders which is a relatively low-volume market.  [Update 10/16/2007 - NewEgg carries the top bin Intel "Tigerton" X7350 2.93 GHz MP CPU.]

Checking with Verari and Appro I checked with two of the smaller server vendors Verari and Appro to see what they had to say and both gave me some carefully crafted answers.  Appro's Maria McLaughlin explained to me that they do sell Barcelona.  McLaughlin wouldn't say the Barcelona chips were in short supply but did say they weren't abundant though she maintained that Appro had enough allocated to meet the needs of their customers.  Edward Holden of Verari (primarily an AMD-based server vendor) also stated that they sell Barcelona servers.  When pressed for an official answer on Barcelona availability, Holden stated that "Verari is seeing strong demand for Barcelona-based systems but we're waiting for supplies to catch up with demand".  Holden also noted that there were no problems getting the motherboards and memory which is easily understandable since Barcelona quad-core doesn't require a change in the platform from AMD's dual-core Opteron line of products.

<Next page - What the Tigerton and Barcelona soft-launches will mean>

What the Tigerton and Barcelona soft-launches will mean

Considering the fact that Intel "launched" Tigerton a month ago, this is what the industry calls a "soft launch" but at least an end is in sight.  In contrast, Intel's Core 2 Microprocessor launch was only hit with tight supplies during the first week or two but the problems went away relatively quickly while Intel Tigerton appears to be delayed two month for the actual ship day.  It's appears that the Intel Tigerton launch was timed to precede the AMD Barcelona launch and the Barcelona launch was timed to precede Intel IDF so looks like they were both trying to crashing each other's launch parties.  Intel would certainly have been a lot better off if they shipped Tigerton in September, but at least customers can at least order the system now so the damage might be limited.

AMD may have a bigger problem since you can't even order these systems from any of the major server makers and none of them can tell you when their Barcelona servers will be available.  Off the record I have some vendors telling me that it is specifically a supply issue with the Barcelona CPUs but none of those AMD partners want to go on the record and speak about AMD problems.  So while it is possible to get Barcelona servers in smaller quantities from the smaller vendors, none of the big five server makers which accounts for the vast majority of the volume are selling Barcelona servers.  We can either interpret this as AMD not being able to produce enough Barcelona processors with their current manufacturing process or we can interpret this as some other issues that the big five Server makers are all having.  But since Barcelona works with on the existing Opteron dual-core platforms as a drop-in part and since Opteron dual-core systems are widely available indicating no shortages on the platform, I personally can't see how this can be anything but a CPU supply issue.

Regardless of the cause, Barcelona servers are not available from the big five and I can't see how this could have a positive impact on AMD's market share and financials when Intel quad-core 2-socket "Clovertown" systems have been shipping for almost a year and 4-socket quad-core "Tigerton" systems will ship next month.  September through November was a critical window of opportunity for AMD since they can finally claim an edge on performance per watt with AMD Barcelona even though they won't take the raw performance crown on most applications.  But that window narrows when Intel launches its Penryn-class "Harpertown" quad-core server CPUs this November 12th.  If Harpertown pulls off a solid launch ready to ship in quantity this November, AMD will have to face Intel's next generation 45nm High-K processors with 50% more cache, 20% higher memory clock speeds, 33% less power consumption for the 3 GHz quad-core, 32% more Harpertown cores per wafer than Barcelona because of the 45nm process, and a few other smaller architectural refinements.

AMD still expects to officially announce the 2.5 GHz Barcelona part in December.  But if the current issues preventing the big five server makers from launching Barcelona-based servers is indeed a CPU shortage, then I really have to wonder how long it's going to take them to ship parts based on the 2.5 GHz Barcelona.  If it isn't a CPU shortage and AMD's process refinements are moving right along and the issues causing the delay get resolved, then we could see a burst of Barcelona servers from 1.7 to 2.5 GHz coming out the end of this year which would be a big boost for AMD.  But for AMD's sake, it had better be the latter explanation.

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