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Several analysts have published statements that Advanced Micro Devices will not be able to release its highly-anticipated quad-core chips on time after supercomputer maker Cray issued a warning that it may not get revenue from its quad-core microprocessor-based Cray XT4 systems in 2007. AMD was quick to deny such a possibility, however, many now expect AMD’s new chips to become massively available only in Q4 2007.

Cray Expects Delays, AMD Denies

In early May the management of Cray Inc. issued a warning that if the company recognizes no product revenue from BlackWidow and quad-core Cray XT4 systems in 2007, Cray’s total revenue for 2007 would be less than $200 million. Cray’s XT4 systems are comprised of numerous processing elements (PEs), each of which is based on one AMD Opteron processor for uni-processor (UP) applications coupled with its own memory and dedicated communication resource.

Following Cray’s warning in early May, the company confirmed in early June that a “third party vendor” had notified it about a delay of certain volume shipments, which caused analysts and observers to blame AMD for inability to supply quad-core AMD Opteron processors code-named Budapest designed for UP systems.

Both “Barcelona” and “Budapest” quad-core AMD Opteron processors are based on the company’s next-generation micro-architecture and will be produced using 65nm process technology. Among the highlights of AMD’s new chips the manufacturer lists shared 2MB L3 cache, 128-bit floating point units (FPU), SSE4A instructions, support for dual-channel DDR2 memory and other innovations. The difference between the two designs is that Barcelona can work in dual-processor (DP) and multi-processor (MP) configurations and uses coherent HyperTransport 1.0 bus, whereas Budapest is aimed at UP systems and sports higher-speed HyperTransport 3.0 bus. Microprocessors for DP and MP machines featuring HyperTransport 3.0 bus code-named Shanghai are projected to be released in 2008.

Even though AMD demonstrated dual-chip and multi-chip systems with quad-core code-named Barcelona Opteron processors based on the company’s next-generation micro-architecture at Computex Taipei 2007, the rumours about possible delay of the product re-emerged after they first transpired in mid-May. To prove that the rumours about the delay are groundless, AMD recently issued a statement claiming that its quad-core code-named Barcelona chip was on-track.

“We remain on track for a summer 2007 launch with partners shipping platforms in the third quarter. The guidance that we’ve been giving and that we’re sticking to is that Budapest will follow Barcelona in the second half of 2007,” said AMD spokeswoman Marian Kelley.

Not the First Disappointment

Unfortunately for AMD, Cray’s lowered revenue guidance is hardly the first time when analysts and investors might get disappointed in the quad-core roadmap of the world’s second largest maker of x 86 microprocessors.

Back in the past AMD already delayed the first public demonstration of its quad-core central processing unit (CPU) from mid-2006 to late-2006. Later on, the company indicated that its quad-core chips were 40% faster compared to quad-core Intel Xeon processors, but when Randy Allen of AMD showcased a system running two quad-core AMD Opteron microprocessors last month and disclosed its POV-Ray benchmark result, it turned out that approximately 4000 pixels per second processed by quad-core AMD Opteron chips is below over 4500 pixels per second rendered by quad-core Intel Xeon processors-based machine.

In fact, even according to AMD’s official information, the introduction of quad-core AMD Opteron code-named Barcelona product has been delayed. The company originally said that it would start delivering its quad-core products in mid-2007. But already in an interview in late February, 2007, it indicated that the CPU was “slated for introduction at the end of the second quarter and would be in the market in the third quarter”. Even though the company released some peculiarities about its quad-core offering recently, it now expects to start quad-core server shipments in July or August.

Small Delay May Cause Serious Problems

Even though many products get delayed, postponements of server solutions may cause serious problems, as server companies have delivery schedules and later-than-expected CPU ramp up may force them to be missed. Those missed schedules cause issues not only to those, who buy servers and those who build them, but to AMD itself on the first place.

According to AMD, it takes approximately two quarters, or half a year, to transit 50% of server and workstation offerings to a new technology. At least, this was the case with the switch from single-core to dual-core AMD Opteron processors.

“Within two quarters of the [dual-core AMD Opteron] introduction, 50% of AMD’s [server and workstation] shipments were dual-core. I expect the ramp from dual-core to quad-core to be similar,” earlier this year said Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD’s server and workstation division.

The quad-core AMD Opteron launch in August means that it will take some time before the new product emerges in mass quantities and throughout all the ramp up time AMD’s arch-rival Intel will be able to enjoy increases of market share in the lucrative market of servers, putting further pricing pressure on AMD’s dual-core offerings. On the other hand, Hector Ruiz, chief executive at AMD, has predicted that revenue ramp of quad-core AMD Opteron would not be rapid...

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