by Anton Shilov
08/03/2011 | 10:30 AM
Advanced Micro Devices has once again demonstrated its forthcoming sixteen-core AMD Opteron "Interlagos" chip to the press at an event in Dresden, Germany. Unfortunately, the company showed no performance benchmarks and was unable to demonstrate any servers from its partners, except a machine from Supermicro, which is an alarming sign as the company recently lowered performance expectations for its forthcoming chip.
Bulldozer is a crucially important product for AMD. The Sunnyvale, California-based chip designer has been developing Bulldozer micro-architecture, the first major micro-architecture since the Hammer micro-architecture released in 2003, for over six years. Initially the company wanted to manufacture Bulldozer-based central processing units at 45nm node, but eventually it decided that 32nm fabrication process is more suitable for the chip. Bulldozer is crucial for the company as it is supposed to improve its share on the lucrative markets of high-end desktops and servers. The company is excited about Bulldozer as its peculiarities will allow it to relatively quickly and easily add more cores and thus boost performance of its chips.
"The most exciting part is getting to launch. It has been a long journey, it has been over six years that we have been working on this core. It is exciting to bring a new 'from scratch core' to the market. I think the exciting contribution that Bulldozer brings to the market is that it enables scaling with core counts and thread throughput for server and client markets," said Mike Butler, chief architect of Bulldozer core.
AMD has been publicly talking about its forthcoming Bulldozer micro-architecture as well as products on its base, namely Interlagos (16-core chip for servers) and Zambezi (8-core chip for desktops) for many quarters now. In a bid to keep the interest towards Bulldozer high, AMD has been releasing details about the micro-architecture, peculiarities of products and some background regarding design decisions for over a year now. Unfortunately, amid the massive hype the company not only delayed Bulldozer-based products for a number of times, but at some point it decided not to provide any official performance estimates or expectations.
AMD Opteron 16-core chips for 1P servers
At its event in Dresden, Germany, AMD again decided not to share performance expectations or exact specifications of its forthcoming chips. The company demonstrated a wafer with Orochi/Valencia dies (which will power Valencia and Interlagos chips) as well as single-socket and dual-socket servers from Supermicro running a sixteen-core AMD Opteron "Interlagos" microprocessor. AMD expects to start shipments of its Interlagos chips this month and the official launch is projected to occur sometimes in September.
"This is a Supermicro system with single-socket Opteron 6200-series processor in it. It has sixteen cores and, as you can see, it has got eight memory DIMMs as well. [...] First and foremost is that Bulldozer can bring new levels of performance for customers. Second, it is going to increase the amount of scalability because you can add more cores and more memory addressability. The third thing is the compatibility and efficiency that you will see will help drive power efficiency, better processor efficiency and, most importantly, better budget efficiency," said John Fruehe John Fruehe, director of product marketing for server, embedded and FireStream products at AMD.
The fact that AMD does not share performance numbers of unreleased chips is not truly surprising by itself: companies are unwilling to reveal details of products that officially do not exist. But the alarming thing is that AMD even decided not to tip any performance numbers or show advantages of its chips when running server applications compared to Intel's already available eight-core and ten-core Xeon chips for dual-socket and multi-socket servers.
The things are getting even more alarming after a remark made by AMD's interim chief executive officer, who recently said that the new chips will only offer 35% of performance boost compared to existing products. Earlier the company estimated that the new chips will offer 50% better performance than current-generation server chips.
"We expect to begin shipping our first server platform featuring the Bulldozer this quarter. The Interlagos platform is our first server offering optimized for today's cloud datacenters. The [Bulldozer] [micro]-architecture excels at compute-intensive and HPC workloads, where it will deliver up to 35% performance improvements compared to our current offerings. Customer excitement for Interlagos is high: all of our major customers are expected to introduce servers based on the new platform this year. We are committed to the server market and are focused on returning the business to a growth trajectory," said Thomas Seifert, interim chief executive officer of AMD, during a recent conference call.
Recently a server maker accidentally disclosed specifications of next-generation Opteron models that AMD seems to plan to release initially which sported pretty low clock-speeds:
Insufficient clock-speeds of Bulldozer are probably the reason why AMD now claims that the 16-core offering will be 35% faster than 12-core solution (which is natural, given 33% higher core count) and not 50%, as it initially expected. It is also noteworthy that Bulldozer's per-core performance is not projected to be much higher compared to existing microprocessors.
At present AMD's fastest twelve-core Opteron 6180 SE server chip works at 2.50GHz, so it remains to be seen how significantly faster will the new sixteen-core Opteron 6276 chip with 2.30GHz/2.80GHz clock-speeds be against its predecessor in real world applications.
But will AMD Opteron "Interlagos" and "Valencia" processors powered by Bulldozer micro-architecture help AMD to boost its server market share? It is questionable and competition from Intel Corp. is only a part of the equation here.
AMD claims that since Opteron 6200- (Interlagos, 1-way, 2-way and 4-way servers) and 4200-series (Valencia, 1-way and 2-way machines) microprocessors will benefit from drop in compatibility with platforms featuring G34 and C32 servers. This will not only allow existing customers to upgrade their servers, but will also help its server partners to quickly initiate shipments of Bulldozer-based machines by simply switching chips.
Please click to enlarge
The problem is that at present Intel outsells AMD in terms of servers 19 to 1; according to recent figures from IDC, AMD's present share on the market of servers is 5.5%. Such a low market share means that server manufacturers will hardly be able to quickly boost volume of AMD-based machines. Moreover, the share of G34 and C32 platforms is between 6% and 8% of all servers shipped in the last five quarters, hence, AMD cannot hope to significantly boost Opteron chip sales because of upgrades.
It is highly likely that in case AMD's next-generation Opteron chips are considerably better than Intel's, market share of the former will grow relatively slowly as server makers need to get appropriate mainboards, memory modules and other components to boost shipments of AMD-based servers. On the other hand, since server companies are more or less confident with AMD, its comeback may take several quarters, not years. The main question is whether 35% performance increase over previous-generation chips will be enough for AMD to be competitive with Intel offerings.