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Bobcat aims for advanced performance at under 1 watt of power consumption per core.  (Source: AMD via Anandtech)

Bulldozer packs a major redesign, with two integer cores sharing an FPU. AMD says the approach optimizes performance per die size.  (Source: AMD via Anandtech)

The Llano packs a K10-derived core (pictured here) paired with on-die DDR3 and a 5000-series GPU.  (Source: AMD)
Can Bulldozer, Bobcat, and Llano allow AMD to dethrone CPU kingpin Intel?

AMD has plenty to cheer about of late.  Almost out of the red in its latest fiscal report, the company has surged ahead to become the top seller of discrete GPUs (as of July).  The company also is sitting on a pile of cash -- $1.25B USD -- from a settlement with Intel over Intel's alleged attempts to pay cash payouts to OEMs to not use AMD CPUs (and several other alleged anticompetitive actions).  With the U.S. Federal Trade Commission promising to keep a watchful eye on Intel, the ball is now in AMD's court to deliver a competitive CPU product.

Today at the Hot Chips conference held at Stanford University, the company discussed some new details on its trio of upcoming architectures (Bobcat, Llano, Bulldozer) that AMD hopes will revitalize its CPU unit and offer a turnaround akin to what it pulled off in the GPU sector.

First up is Bobcat.  Discussed as far back as Computex 2007, this architecture covers lightweight 1-10 watt TDP processors for mobile computers such as netbooks.  In that respect it's AMD's first true challenger to Intel's wildly successful Atom. 

AMD has had CPUs billed as netbook processors, but they were too power hungry to be true competitors.  For example, last year's single core AMD Athlon 64 L110 CPU, which debuted in Acer subsidiary Gateway's LT3103u netbook, clocked in at 1.2 GHz and consumed 13 watts of power.  Compare that to Intel's Atom N270, which launched nearly a year earlier and offered 1.6 GHz speed and a tiny 2.5 W power envelope.

To put things in context AMD is targeting under 1 watt per core with Bobcat, a dramatic improvement over the L110 and other currently-offered low-power processors from AMD.

While both Atom and Bobcat are similar in number of pipe stages for the CPU (16 stages for the former, 15 for the latter), the Bobcat is an out-of-order CPU which should give it a performance edge over Intel's otherwise similar design.  The design features 64 KB of L1 cache, and 512 KB of L2 cache.

Bobcat notably will likely never be sold as a stand-alone CPU (or at least AMD has announced no plans to do so).  It will first pop up early next year as an AMD's first Fusion CPU dubbed OntarioOntario will feature 2 Bobcat cores paired with an AMD GPU.  The combined system-on-a-chip (SoC) will be produced at the 40 nm node at TSMC's chip fabs.

AMD even has a catchy name for the package -- it's not a CPU, it's an APU (Accelerated Processor Unit).

Turning to Bulldozer, the new CPUs target the performance desktop and notebook sector and offer a significant redesign, shifting the architecture in an interesting direction.

Following Intel's Nehalem (i7), Bulldozer is a more modular design.  AMD is opting for a bit different design on the modular level, though.  It's opting for a two-integer core design capable of servicing two threads, with a common floating point unit (FPU) between the cores.  While obvious lacking the performance of 2 full cores with a FPU each, the dual-core module design is only 12-percent larger than a single core design at the node size.  And AMD promises the performance boost on average will be significantly more than 12-percent, so this seems a smart tradeoff.

Other changes include a deeper pipeline and more aggressive prefetching.  Idle cores can be fully turned off for power savings.

Bulldozer CPUs will primarily retail in the desktop sector in 1 to 4 module packages (for a total of 2 to 8 threads/integer cores) on the AM3 socket.  A 16-core G34 socket variant dubbed Interlagos and a C32 socket 8-core model dubbed Valencia will launch for servers.  The CPUs will be produced on a 32 nm process, by Global Foundries.  Intel was the first to hit this node with its Nehalem die-shrink Clarkdale, which launched in January of this year.

Each integer core has a tiny 16 KB cache.  That's disappointingly, low, but AMD says the performance impact will be masked by plentiful L2 cache.

Bulldozer should arrive first in Q2/Q3 2011 in server packages (though no precise 2011 date has been specified yet) and later in the year for desktop packages.  This places it roughly two to three quarters behind Intel's first redesigned 32 nm architecture, Sandy Bridge which is slated for a Q4 2010 launch.  Believe it or not, that means AMD is catching up -- if it can meet its schedule that is.

Last but not least is Llano.  Unlike the redesigned Bulldozer and Bobcat, Llano is a system on a chip featuring a refined K10-based core design -- basically a tweaked Phenom II.  AMD's slides have shown that it will use a new socket called "AM3r2".  The package will pack four of those K10-based cores, a 5000-series-derived GPU, and DD3 memory.

Llano's release date was bumped from Q4 2010 to Jan. 2011, based on yield issues (and "reaction to Ontario’s market opportunities", according to AMD PR-speak).

If AMD can push ahead and keep its launch dates on target it looks to be quite competitive with Intel CPU-wise on a number of fronts in 2011 -- netbooks/tablets (Bobcat), mid-range laptops (Llano), and high-end notebooks/desktops (Bulldozer).  Of course the most telling details will be the actual benchmarks of the chips versus Intel's competitive designs.  AMD currently has these CPUs in its lab and is doing internal testing -- but don't expect third-party benchmarks until close to launch-time.


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RE: No talk of speed
By inighthawki on 8/24/2010 9:51:06 PM , Rating: 2
You are aware clock frequencies means next to nothing if you don't have many other performance characteristics, right? There's a reason why a 2.6GHz i7 can outperform a 4GHz Phenom II, and why that can quite easily outperform a 4GHz Pentium 4.


RE: No talk of speed
By hardware specialists on 8/25/2010 8:58:07 AM , Rating: 2
what world do you live in. its slightly faster ( clock to clock) due to tripple channel ddr3( 1366) and a few other things but 2.6 ghz i7 in no way out performs an amd phenom II @ 4.0 ghz. thats crazy. read up b4 you start saying things that make you sound less then intellegent.


RE: No talk of speed
By hardware specialists on 8/25/10, Rating: 0
RE: No talk of speed
By inighthawki on 8/25/2010 3:14:01 PM , Rating: 4
First and foremost, I am not an Intel fanboy by any means. In fact I highly favor AMDs offerings, but even I am not biased enough to realize that the i7 lineup is superior to the Phenom IIs, Intel won this round.

Secondly, yes I may have gone a little overboard on the frequency. A 4GHz PII, maybe not, but if you take a look at
http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/102?vs=47
you can easily see that an i7 920 @ 2.66GHz outperforms the PII in almost every benchmark, where the PII is at 3.4GHz. And yes, I am comparing the original low-end i7 quad core with the highest end quad core PII. I hope we don't need to bring in the 980X or compare a 4GHz PII with a 4GHz i7, because that will be pretty sad. Undeniable, my friend. And again yes, I love AMD, they just have the inferior product this time around. I'm really hoping they do well with bulldozer, it sounds promising.

Oh and your above comment about triple channel memory... where did you get the idea that it had such a large impact? In fact, it has almost no performance improvement at all:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/Intel-Core-i7-...
The difference is fairly minimal.

As for value, i got an i7-930 for $200, is that not a good value? Yeah generally AMD has better value, but that doesn't mean always.

I suggest you do the research you suggested I do before you make it sound as though my claims have no merit whatsoever, when in fact they are quite accurate.


RE: No talk of speed
By just4U on 8/26/2010 1:55:27 AM , Rating: 2
All that being said If you take two towers with similiar specs (one with a PII and the other with a I7) and compare (without benchmarks) your not going to find alot of difference overall. it's there... and in some instances noticable but for the most part? Not so much.


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