what appeared on the surface to be good news for Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) landed. The
company announced [press release] that it was shipping the world's first 16-core server CPUs to retailers and OEMs, with product expected to hit end users
sometime in October.
I. Can You Handle 16 Cores of
The new chips use a new 32 nm core design dubbed Bulldozer, which AMD hopes will do the trick
in remedying slumping server-side revenue. While Interlagos technically is a 16-core
CPU, the term is a bit confusing as it lacks certain elements you would expect
in a full 16-core implementation.
The chip is built on Bulldozer modules,
which contain a pair of processing cores. However, the module only has a
single floating point processing unit (FPU) and fetch/decode/execute unit
to share between the two processing cores.
This is a bit different from Intel Corp. (INTC), who incorporates a
full FPU and fetch/decode/execute unit with every core. The net result is
that performance may not be quite as high as you would expect out of a 16-core
Each chip comes with a quad-channel memory controller.
The new cores will be branded the FX-6200 series. AMD still hasn't
updated their product page to include information on
this new lineup, but we expect them to do so shortly. The new cores are
pin-compatible with AMD's Socket G34 (Magny-Cours/Opteron 6100) motherboards.
Information on pricing and clock speeds is still not generally available,
nor are comprehensive third-party benchmarks. However, one can expect a
slightly lower clock speed due to the high core count, which would mean strong
performance in highly multithreaded apps, but less spectacular performance in
primarily serial apps. Given the target, though -- business users -- this
should be an acceptable compromise as most heavy corporate server loading is
multi-threaded these days.
AMD says that Interlagos will
be compatible with dual- and quad-socket server motherboards, indicating that
you may be able to pack up to 64 cores onto a single board. If that's not
enough, AMD's 2012 Terramar platform will include up to
20 cores per die.
Interlagos is expected to see strong pickup
among supercomputer makers due to the high core-density per motherboard.
Cray, Inc. (CRAY), a top
supercomputer maker, was the first company to receive a shipment of the new chips.
II. Zambezi, Wither Art Thou?
While Interlagos is nearing the market, AMD
has grown decidedly quiet about Zambezi, the
four, six, and eight core desktop processors that work supposed to launch in Q3
2011. One problem may be clock speeds.
Given the core count AMD may be able to get away with a lower clocked Interlagos offering, but it will face
substantial criticism on the desktop end, if it fails to deliver its promised
relatively high clock speeds, which were supposed to be 3.6 GHz (normal), 4.2
GHz (turbo) for the FX-8150 octacore chip.
At this point it’s all rumors, but the critical thing is that Zambezi is nowhere to be found even as
Intel's Ivy Bridge platform -- its first to feature its new power-saving 3D transistor design
-- races towards a 2012 launch.
III. New Fusion Chips Land
While AMD may be struggling on the high end of the PC market, it's
certainly taken the low end by storm with its Fusion CPU+GPU chips. Alongside the announcement of Interlagos availability,
AMD quietly announced the availability of new Fusion Llano series advanced processing unit (APU) designs.
The first chip, the A4-3300 is priced at a sweet $70, includes dual 32 nm Stars (Phenom
II architecture) cores clocked at 2.5 GHz and with 2 MB of L2 cache and a 160
unified shader GPU. The chip draws 65 watts.
The second chip, the A4-3400 comes with an identical GPU, but bumps the
clock speed to 2.7 GHz, and the price to $75. Both chips fully support
DDR3 1600 memory.
Given the price, you may see these chips ending up in designs priced as
low as $200-$300. At that price they should experience market traction.
Thus AMD continues to dominate the low to mid-market, while failing to
deliver competitive high-end CPU product, on the PC side at least.
While AMD has stated that it intended Llano primarily as a budget
desktop chip, the chips are currently available from Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) exclusively in OEM
laptop builds. Discrete offerings for do-it-yourself desktop builds
should be available shortly.