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Advanced Micro Devices has potential to release quad-core microprocessors by 2007, stated a recently released report from Goldman Sachs, an investment managing firm. If the information materializes, chipmaker AMD will push the boundaries of x86 computing further in about three years from now and two years after the company launches its first dual-core product.

AMD Confident in Dual-Core, Targets Quad-Core CPUs

“AMD has relatively high confidence in its dual-core product development, given its AMD64 architecture was designed from the ground up to optimize multi-core configurations with its integrated memory controller and HyperTransport features. Note that the die size (and thus likely cost) for dual-core is likely to be well less that double that of a single-core, given the amount of shared circuitry between the two cores,” said Andrew Root, an analyst for Goldman Sachs.

So far AMD has disclosed plans to produce server, workstation and desktop central processing units with two processing engines in the second half of next year. AMD is expected to release its dual-core AMD Opteron products in mid-2005 and AMD Athlon 64 product with two cores in late 2005. AMD plans to produce its dual-core products using 90nm/200mm production lines, which has already started to make commercial CPUs, in 2005 and to move to more advanced 65nm/300mm production lines of Fab 36 in 2006.

“AMD’s roadmap in microprocessors includes launching a dual-core processor next year, and potentially a quad-core processor in 2007 on the 65nm/300mm process,” Mr. Root of Goldman Sachs continued.

While there will be hardly any need for multi-core microprocessors in desktops in 2007, server makers are likely to welcome multi-core chips. It is not clear whether multi-core offerings from AMD will feature AMD64 architecture used today or AMD's code-named K9 architecture that is in development.

“AMD remains on track for starting production at its new 300mm fab (Fab 36 in Dresden, Germany) on 65nm [process technology] in 1H 2006, with equipment arriving in Q3. Recall that AMD is doing the 65nm technology development jointly with IBM, and estimates that it is about 70% done. In addition, the joint process development and our checks have suggested that IBM and its SOI (Silicon on Insulator) process, are the most likely foundry partners for AMD should it choose to go more fully toward a fab-light model in 2005 and beyond,” claims the report from Goldman Sachs.

Official comments from Advanced Micro Devices were unavailable at press time.

Multi-Core Chips Coming from Everywhere

Traditional microprocessors and personal computers have always had only one processing engine, or core. While single-core central processing units packed with advanced capabilities and operating at high speed delivers enough performance to the vast majority of today’s applications in desktop segment, servers and powerful workstations, which have to handle many operations at once need more than one processing engine to execute two or more threads simultaneously.

With applications for desktops becoming more complex, require more processing power and execution of multiple treads of code instantly, the number of computing engines per personal computer is needed to be increased. While in servers and workstations manufacturers bump the number of chips per computer, desktops are far more cost-sensitive and the majority of PCs are shipped with only one central processing unit inside. While there are some technologies, such as Intel Hyper-Threading, that emulate two processing engines within one microprocessor, they are hardly as efficient as a real system with 2 processors.

A more or less cost-effective way to improve performance of central processing units and personal computers without serious boosting clock-speeds of the chips or increasing the number of CPUs within the system is to pack two processing engines into a single package.

Nowadays all leading makers of processors have announced plans to supply, or already deliver processors with more than one core. IBM has been supplying its Power4 and Power5 products with two cores for a while and targets to produce chips with two processing engines for Apple’s future workstation and also chips for Microsoft’s Xbox 2 console with three cores. Besides, IBM is working with Sony on the Cell processors that are also expected to feature more than one core. Sun Microsystems is on-track to release its multi-core, multi-threaded server products code-named Niagara and Rock in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Intel said earlier this year that in 2005 it would release dual-core chips for high-end and mainstream servers, workstations, desktops and portables, while 2006/2007 would be a right time for multi-core central processing units for servers to emerge from the world’s largest chipmaker. AMD has already finalized the design of its dual-core product for servers and said it would supply desktop market with dual-core chips as well by late 2005.

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