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AMD cooks up eight-core server processor

Posted: 31 Jul 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:x86 core Bobcat? Phenom desktop CPU? eight-core server processor?

Advanced Micro Devices has disclosed plans for an eight-core server processor, a new low-power x86 core and more details of its Fusion processors all slated for 2009. The company also demonstrated a 3GHz version of its quad-core Phenom desktop processor, which it said it will ship this quarter.

However, the company said it could be another three to six months before it is ready to reveal details of its so-called Asset Lite plan to reduce manufacturing costs. AMD has been struggling with losses this year in part due to a price war with archrival Intel Corp.

Novel cores
AMD is developing an x86 core called Bobcat designed from the ground up to run at as little as 1W and available in a family of products starting in 2009. The core will also dropped in to a future version of the Xillion processor from ATI Technologies used in DTVs.

"Bobcat is really targeted at the ultramobile space of high-end cellphones and other consumer devices," said Phil Hester, AMD's chief technology officer.

Earlier this year, Intel said it is developing in a 45nm process a low power x86 CPU called Silverthorne, targeted at a new class of ultra mobile PCs.

AMD has an edge over Intel in the rising consumer electronics sector thanks to its acquisition of ATI which has a wealth of silicon for video, graphics and other functions for consumer systems. "I don't think Intel has half as much intellectual property (IP) in that area," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64.

Hester said AMD is developing a modular design methodology that will allow it to more easily share IP blocks across multiple designs including its Fusion processors that will merge graphics and CPU cores starting in 2009. The first family of Fusion chips, called Falcon, will target both notebook and desktop PCs and integrate PCIe 2.0 interconnects as well, Hester added.

"If you bring PCIe into the processor, you save a lot of time and energy crossing chip boundaries and thus you save space and power," Hester said.

"I think that's brilliant because it will let OEMs buy fewer motherboards focusing on ones that can scale to using internal or external graphics chips," said Jon Peddie, principal of Jon Peddie Associates.

Separately, AMD plans to ship in 2008 an eight-core server processor called Sandtiger made in its 45nm technology. The chip will use four HyperTransport links, up from three on today's AMD server CPUs. It will also sport the 2.0 version of Express and a new approach to expanding the amount and bandwidth of host memory, said Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD's server and workstation division.

Fab strategy
AMD's chief financial officer, Bob Rivest, said the company's stated goal of breaking even in Q4 "is aggressive" given the company's recent reports of losses.

The company is currently trimming costs by slowing down plans to facilitate its Fab 38 in Dresden. "We need a lot more top-line growth," Rivest said, indicating the roll out of the Phenom and new graphics chips will help.

Doug Grose, senior VP of manufacturing and supply chain management, said AMD has finished a plan to reduce its manufacturing costs but is still discussing details of the plan with existing and potential partners.

The company will maintain a strong commitment to its own fabs for both silicon-on-insulator (SOI) and bulk CMOS processes. But AMD will also increasingly rely on Chartered Semiconductor in Singapore for SOI for its CPUs and both TSMC and UMC for CMOS for its graphics chips. Chartered is ramping 65nm technology now, and AMD is already using a 55nm process at TSMC, he said.

"Our Asset Lite strategy is not a fables model," Grose said.

"I think they have put to rest the speculation that they are getting out of the fab business," said analyst Brookwood.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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