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A wounded AMD looks to release its first 12 core processor in Q1 2010

Many fondly recall the megahertz race -- the 90s phenomena in which Advanced Micro Devices and Intel raced to have the highest-clocked processor.  Over time, designers realized such a blind race was foolish, and that it was conceding far too much in efficiency and heat.  Now a similar race is heating up over the number of cores in a desktop processor, but only time will tell whether the race is the path of good design, or another blind charge.

Intel already has a four-core 45 nm desktop processor (Nehalem/i7) and a six-core server processor (Xeon) on the market.  It plans to roll out an eight-core server processor (Xeon) in Q4 2009. 

However, it may fall behind in the core race (though still presumably ahead in die-shrinks) if AMD is able to deliver on its planned release schedule.  AMD plans to release its six-core 45 nm processor, codenamed Istanbul in June.  The chip, like Intel's 6-core beast, is geared for the server market. 

But that's far from AMD's biggest news.  AMD has announced plans to beat Intel to 12 cores, releasing both 8 and 12 core processors, codenamed Magny-Cours, in Q1 2010.  It has also announced that it will in 2011 roll out its 32 nm Bulldozer core, which will feature up to 16 cores, running on the new Sandtiger architecture.  In short -- AMD plans to beat Intel in the core race.

Patrick Patla, an AMD vice president and general manager of its server unit states, "We are not ducking performance.  We want to do top-line performance with bottom-line efficiency."

Intel, meanwhile, remains confident that it can deliver equivalent performance with fewer cores via Hyper Threading.  Like NVIDIA, Intel is pursuing a slightly more monolithic design with fewer, but stronger processor cores.  Intel spokesman Nick Knupffer states, "We are confident we will stay far ahead on performance--and with fewer cores--do so in a more cost-effective, manufacturing-friendly manner.  This will be the first time in history where less is more."

Even if AMD can beat Intel in performance, it will still be in dire financial straits until it can translate that performance into sales.  AMD took another big loss in its recently reported fiscal quarter, just the latest in several years mostly in the red. 

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RE: Just as pointless as the mhz war
By omnicronx on 4/23/2009 1:05:25 PM , Rating: 2
As long as we keep seeing 40%+ performance improvements with each new generation of chips, I don't really care what they do!
But thats exactly his point, with current tech this just is not possible. In fact there will reach a point where with current tech, too many cores will actually have negative effects.

Just go Google it, with current memory technology, over 8 cores can actually result in a negative impact. The Memory bandwidth just is not there, especially in the desktop environment. It will be interesting to see the results of these 12 core variants, as my guess is they will be limited to the server market. Desktop users just won't see an improvement.

RE: Just as pointless as the mhz war
By kkwst2 on 4/23/2009 1:43:04 PM , Rating: 3
But that's exactly HIS point. He's saying that once we hit the core wall it will force some other innovation in how to scale performance and then we'll beat that horse to death and continue to improve performance.

That's how it works. We keep pushing current technology until there's a need to do something differently. It's only when we hit the wall that people really start trying to think outside the box and more importantly that the people making the architecture decisions (which usually aren't the same as the people innovating) start listening.

They've been saying for years that we're going to hit a wall, but each time someone comes up with a way around it. Now maybe we will hit one eventually, but I'm betting it won't be next year.

Memory bandwidth has been dramatically improved with Nehalem. It should scale pretty well to 12 cores. My applications scale pretty well to 8 cores on Nehalem (Xeon) - much better than the previous architecture. It's certainly not like they don't understand the problems of core scaling and they're doing things to try to solve those issues.

RE: Just as pointless as the mhz war
By omnicronx on 4/23/2009 1:48:23 PM , Rating: 2
And I agree, but we won't see the benefit in the desktop world for some time to come. We've already had the MHZ war, then the war of the cores, now both Intel and AMD have on die memory controllers, they are kind of running out of options. My guess is on die memory controller per core, not shared per chip, but that won't reach the desktop market for some time, its just too expensive (nor is it currently needed).
Memory bandwidth has been dramatically improved with Nehalem. It should scale pretty well to 12 cores.
How many times must I say its not merely the bandwidth, latency is disgustingly high the more cores you go. Just think about how complex it is to split a job between four cores using a shared memory controller let alone 12.

RE: Just as pointless as the mhz war
By kkwst2 on 4/26/2009 8:44:57 PM , Rating: 2
How many times must I say its not merely the bandwidth, latency is disgustingly high the more cores you go.

How many times are you going to be wrong? That's a generalization. Sometimes it's true. Obviously in general it's better to have low latency, but it depends on the task how important memory latency is.

And Nehalem has significantly lower latency (under most situations) and higher bandwidth, so my statement holds.

It also depends on the talk how complex it is to split between cores. My application scales quite well to 50-100 cores.

People keep talking about either desktop or server applications. There are a LOT of technical people utilizing 8+ cores all the time in both "desktop" and cluster computing. It's certainly a niche market compared to servers, but I guarantee you it's still a lot of money. These Nehalem chips are revolutionizing how much FPU power you can get out of a small cluster.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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