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One year has passed since the announcement of AMD Opteron processors. Looking firmly forward, AMD’s chief executive officer is pretty confident about the future of his company’s technology and is anticipating the next big thing with microprocessors – affordable dual-core technology that is going to hit the ground in 2005.

AMD’s Strong Roadmap

“We have roadmap that when you look 12 months out, it is pretty firm. You look 12 to 24 months, and it is almost firm. And then you look beyond that, and it is always subject to modifications of the market. When we look out to, say, the end of 2005, we are enabling customers to really create a tremendous breadth of product lines,” AMD’s CEO Hector Ruiz said in an interview to eWeek.

AMD sold around 40 thousand of AMD Opteron processors in 2003, according to Smith Barney's estimations, but the vast majority of such chips were intended for 2-way systems. The company managed to supply approximately 3200 processors for 4-way systems to power some 800 servers. While 4P, 8P and higher-end machines are not sold in massive quantities, they represent the most lucrative part of the market. But the customers who adopt enterprise-class machines with four or more CPUs have to be absolutely confident in technology they acquire and deploy.

“One of the most powerful things next year is going to be our dual-core product. To me, that is going to really shock the hell out of everyone, because it is going to be hardware-compatible, infrastructure-compatible, pin-compatible. I mean, people that have a 2P system can slap in a dual-core product and end up with a 4P system for the price of a 2P. That’s been the biggest drawback, everyone tells me. What keeps them from going from a 2P to a 4P system? Its price,” Mr. Ruiz continued.

Doubling the Power of Servers!

This is not the first time when Advanced Micro Devices executives talk about their dual-core processors. This is also not the first time when it is said that the infrastructure for the dual-core chips is available right now.

AMD’s Jerry Sanders made it clear last September that the first dual-core AMD Opteron processors featuring AMD64 technology would be manufactured using 90nm SOI technology. In late 2005 AMD plans to start transition to 65nm fabrication process trying to deploy the manufacturing lines of its upcoming Fab 36 in Dresden, Germany; therefore, we may be nearly confident the first dual-core chips by AMD will be made using 90nm design next year.

“With coherent HyperTransport, it is inevitable that we will have multiple cores on a single chip. This is a tremendous opportunity because with our architecture the scaling is far superior to anything else that's out there,” Jerry Sanders, the former head of AMD said last year.

“AMD does not exclude a possibility to launch 90nm dual-core microprocessors in 940-pin packaging,” a person with good knowledge of Sunnyvale, California-based CPU maker plans told last November X-bit labs.

Right now Mr. Ruiz confirms the information about infrastructure for dual-core Opteron processors, confirming that the chips will, at least, have 800MHz HT bus.

Intel’s dual-core chip currently known as Tulsa will emerge in a little bit less about two year’s time – its roadmap was originally aligned with Intel’s dual-core IA64 chip code-named Montecito. This will be the first Xeon and also the first IA32e microprocessor with two cores. Thanks to the Hyper-Threading technology, the chip will be able to handle four or more threads at once, competing with solutions from other server chipmakers. There is no information about infrastructure for Intel Xeon “Tulsa” at the moment.

Two processing cores is a great way to improve performance of microprocessors at a more or less affordable price-point. At present, Xeon MP-based computers have only one dual-channel memory controller for all microprocessors in the server, as a consequence, up to 4 chips tend to utilise one memory bus with limited bandwidth. In case of dual-core design, the same kind of bottleneck may emerge on AMD Opteron successors in 940-pin packaging that will obviously have dual-channel memory controller for both cores. The issue will not be as dramatic, as with current Xeon MP platforms, frankly speaking.

Dual-Core Chips for Desktops, Laptops on the Way

While the discussions are mostly about server dual-core chips today, there is a clear trend towards dual-core processors for desktop computers. Intel has been around with its Hyper-Threading technology that emulates two processing cores for about one and a half years and the advantages of the feature are indisputable. Right now there are strong talks about dual-core Jonah chip featuring two Pentium M-like cores that is presumably coming out in late 2005 or in 2006 for laptops and desktops.

Both Intel and AMD are quiet about possible introduction of their dual-core offerings for consumer markets. Two cores would make the desktop chips big and expensive to make, despite of evident performance benefits. For manufacturers this may mean insufficient gross-margins or rising prices of microprocessors.

But in spite of possible difficulties, multi-threaded and multi-core designs are extremely efficient for modern software and in some cases may be the most cost-effective way to improve computing performance tremendously. Moreover, adoption of dual-core designs may mean another decade or two for the modified x86 architecture.

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