RealTime IT News

AMD Alters Course on the Way to 12 Cores

UPDATED: SAN FRANCISCO -- AMD today offered industry observers a look at a very different roadmap for the next two years of its server processors, changing its plans from just a few months ago to focus on offerings that will scale to up to 12 cores without increasing power demands.

In the process, AMD (NYSE: AMD) also will embrace an idea it has ridiculed for years: the multi-chip module (MCM).

One thing that remains the same is the next iteration of quad-core Opterons, codenamed "Shanghai." Due later this year, these will be 45nm, a die shrink from the 65nm process used in the current crop, Barcelona. Shanghai also will be designed to fit in existing servers with the same Socket F design used by Opteron processors today.

The processors will have 6MB of L3 cache, three times Barcelona's cache, and will support 800MHz DDR2 memory. The chips will also come with AMD-V, a virtualization technology for better processor clock scheduling. Clock speeds were not disclosed.

One element of the roadmap that may surprise observers is that AMD has no plans to move to high-k metal gate technology, which it can get from its chip partner IBM (NYSE: IBM).

Even though high-k metal gate has shown clear benefits for Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) new Penryn processors, Randy Allen, general manager of AMD's server and workstation division, said the company would stick with the immersion lithography it uses for 45nm designs.

After "Shanghai," the roadmap changes. As of December, AMD's next-generation platform was going to be the eight-core "Montreal" design, which had been slated for 2009.

AMD decided to alter the roadmap after determining that there was more performance headroom in its current platform and architecture, and after customer feedback encouraged them to push the bar higher with the existing platform. As a result, Barcelona/Shanghai will go to six cores rather than a wholly new eight-core design.

The road to Istanbul

For the second half of 2009, AMD now plans to scale down Montreal into the six-core design codenamed "Istanbul". Istanbul will be a native six-core design, will be Socket F-compatible and includes a 6MB L3 cache, HyperThreading 3.0 and AMD-V virtualization support.

Unlike Intel's planned six-core processor, Dunnington, Allen said Istanbul is meant for mainstream systems based on two or more sockets, which make up the bulk of server sales. Dunnington, meanwhile, is only for the multiprocessor server market, in which systems use four or more chips -- something of an industry niche.

AMD's new roadmap also keeps the low-end in mind, with upcoming single-socket processors based on the Barcelona design. Budapest will be a quad-core processor designed for single-socket servers, and is due in the second half of this year. It has 2MB of L3 cache, DDR2 memory support and HyperThreading 3, just like Barcelona.

In the second quarter of 2009, Budapest will be succeeded by Suzuka, a single processor version of the Istanbul chip, with four cores, 6MB of L3 cache, DDR3 support and a 45nm design.

In 2010, AMD will release more high-end processors -- Sao Paulo and Magny-Cours, both of which will feature new core technologies and use a new socket/platform, Maranello, previously codenamed "Piranha".

Sao Paulo is a six-core chip with 6MB of L3 cache while Magny-Cours is a 12-core chip with 12MB of L3 cache.

In addition to featuring the new Maranello socket design, both will support a new generation of HyperThreading, as well as support for higher-end DDR3 memory and advanced clock switching to shut down idle cores.

What's good for the goose...

Magny-Cours, meanwhile, will achieve a 12-core design by putting two Sao Paulo chips on one die in the same sort of multi-chip module design Intel used in its quad-core Xeon -- a design choice that AMD had previously ridiculed.