RealTime IT News

Quad-core: The Next AMD vs. Intel Battleground

Dual-core, we hardly knew ye?

Despite the fact that dual-core processors only hit the mainstream in 2005, AMD and Intel are already touting the next generation of "quad-core" processors for 2007.

"Multi-core is the new megahertz," said Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood, in an interview with internetnews.com. "If you want more performance rather than ramping up the megahertz, now it's all about ramping up the number of cores."

Multi-core, which includes several computer "cores," or processing engines, on one piece of silicon, improves performance by sharing workloads.

But multi-core doesn't come without its challenges. Software also has to be written or optimized to take advantage of multi-core processors. Moreover, some factors make multi-core systems less attractive than systems based on traditional single-core processors.

For example, Sun's recently introduced Ultrasparc T1 servers have eight cores but aren't necessarily the best choice for a PC, Brookwood said.

"The T1 is wonderful for Web serving and transaction processing," said Brookwood. "But it wouldn't do well in a desktop PC because its floating point performance is marginal and there are a lot of PC applications that depend on that."

Servers are expected to be the first market for quad-core processors just as they've been for dual-core.

Intel previewed some of its plans this month in a technology demonstration of "Clovertown," a quad-core microprocessor slated to appear in servers in the first quarter of 2007.

In a demo, two of the new quad-core processors ran inside Intel's forthcoming server platform, code-named Bensley, and ran commercial and experimental software using its eight full execution cores.

Intel CTO Justin Rattner outlined a long-term research program Intel has to develop scalable, energy-efficient computing platforms using as many as 10s to 100s of cores.

Intel said in a statement that the research effort, which covers circuits, software tools and high-bandwidth networking, will "fundamentally expand what future handheld, desktop, mobile and enterprise computing platforms are capable of doing."

But AMD has been gaining server share versus Intel, thanks to systems based on its Opteron processor. The No. 2 chipmaker fully intends to continue to compete in the multi-core arena with its own quad-core release in 2007.

"In 2007 we will introduce a true quad-core design with four cores on the die and all the benefits that come with that," Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD's server and workstation division, told internetnews.com.

"Current workloads will see an immediate benefit with quad-core and that will only improve as the software industry works on ways to further exploit it."

Allen's reference to a "true quad-core design" is a dig at Intel. Brookwood notes that Intel has been talking about joining what he says are two intelligently-designed dual-cores into a quad-core package.

The two dual-cores communicate via the front side bus: This is in contrast to AMD's architecture, in which the processor connects directly to memory.

"Intel's approach works and is valid. I'm not going to get into whether it's a true quad-core because I don't think that's important," said Brookwood.

"But Intel does put more of a load on the front side bus and that means the performance isn't going to be as strong as it could be otherwise."

Near term, both AMD and Intel say they expect 2006 will bring a rapid transition to dual-core chips for most systems.

Intel will be revealing more details pertaining to its processor roadmap at its developer's conference March 7-9 in San Francisco.

AMD said it plans to meet with press and analysts to respond to Intel's announcements as well as tout its own plans.