AMD's former executive vice president Henri Richard holds an AMD "Barcelona" quad-core processor in his right hand; yet the company's greatest advocate for native quad-core handed in his walking papers just days before the public embargo lifted.  (Source: AMD)
If there was ever a microprocessor that gave me gray hairs, it's "Barcelona"

Over the last 19 months, we've made it no secret that leaking processors and video cards is "our thing." Kentsfield, R520, G80, QuadFX, R600, Penryn -- their benchmarks came and went.  But what was the deal with Barcelona?

Charlie Demerjian may have stated it best when he said people were "dancing in the aisles" after seeing Barcelona's initial performance.  Though as one Intel employee stated, the dancing was in Santa Clara, not Austin.

In a discussion I recently had with an AMD engineer, AMD's Opteron launch this week was described as either, "the most well-executed media-lid in semiconductor history ... or the most minimized." 

I personally adhere to a third explaination -- the September 10th Opteron launch was perhaps the least prepared. How many times did we see the company claim Barcelona would launch in the Summer of 2007?  I suppose we can assume Summer ends at the autumnal equinox, though that still doesn't explain away the countless public declarations that we'd see Barcelona in June, July and then August.

Don't forget that the one of the key forefigures for the K10 project bolted for the door just two days before Monday's launch.  But nevermind the anecdotal evidence that suggests September 10th will be remembed as a day that will live in AMD public relations infamy.  Let's just look at the physical evidence.

Generally obtaining the latest and greatest hardware is but a stone's throw away, assuming you can throw a stone all the way to Taiwan or China. However with Barcelona, two critical factors prevented us from obtaining any functional pre-release hardware: overseas vendors did not receive near-production samples of the processors until August 2007; and when those vendors did receive samples, compatibility with motherboards became a problem.

The June samples first showcased on DailyTech were of the earliest possible silicon.  These samples, labeled B0 stepping and running at a mere 1.6 GHz, were actually spun nearly six months before the processors showcased this week in the Barcelona launch.

Since that benchmark during Computex, I've lost count of the number of mismatched memory, CPU and motherboard combinations I've attempted with pre-production Barcelona samples.  Dual-socket motherboards that would only recognize a single processor; DDR2-667 memory configurations that would perform better than DDR2-800 setups; BSODs and corrupt Windows installations.

Fortunately AMD made sure at least two people had working configurations for Monday -- Scott Wasson and my former boss Anand Shimpi.

I waited on publishing this blog, half-expecting to see some more in depth coverage of benchmarks.  The 2.0 GHz samples we saw on Monday were of AMD's B1 stepping of Barcelona.  But these processors are not the ones we'll see on Newegg's shelves. 

Production Barcelona samples come with the BA revision designator.  These processors, manufactured after work-week 30 (WW30 for those who work in the corporate world) include errata fixes not present in the chips reviewed on September 10th.

One AMD developer, who wished to remain anonymous for non-disclosure purposes, stated, "B1 versus BA should be at least a 5%, if not more, gain in stream, integer and FPU performance."

An AMD engineer, when confronted with the claim, stated that 5% gains when moving from B1 to BA processors "seem conservative."

But why stop at BA or B1.  The 2.5 GHz samples featured on AnandTech's second article are of the newest roadmapped spin; revision B2.  When Shimpi made the inference that the 2.5 GHz Opterons would be the closest thing to Phenom, he was hardly exaggerating.  AMD's current roadmaps peg the the B2 stepping launch for Opteron and Phenom as mid-Q4 2007. 

But wait, the buck doesn't stop at B2 either.  According to engineers at Sun and SuperMicro, B3 silicon is already on its way to American testing facilities.  Unfortunately, AMD's current desktop and server roadmap stops labeling individual processors in Q1 2008.  B3-stepped processors do not appear on that roadmap update.

We'll see at least two more revisions of Barcelona before it gets replaced with AMD's 45nm offering, Shanghai.  But if the September launch is AMD's attempt to put its best foot forward, I might have a lot more gray hair by this time next year.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller
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