AMD’s Barcelona Near-Ready to Take On Intel

UPDATED: After teasing the high-tech world for months, AMD said today it will ship its quad-core Barcelona Opteron processors in August to computer makers. Servers powered by the new chips will be available in September.

AMD  plans to release both standard (95 watts) and low power (68 watts) versions of the Opteron chip at launch, the first time AMD has made both standard and low power parts available as part of a new processor launch.

The Barcelona will be a part of the Opteron line as both the 2xxx family (dual processor servers) and 8xxx family (four processor servers). AMD will ship 2.0Ghz and 1.9GHz versions of the standard and low power Barcelona, plus there will be a 1.7Ghz low power processor as well. The company will release higher frequency processors in the fourth quarter.

That clock speed may seem a bit slow, given there are 3.0Ghz Opterons on the market now. Bruce Shaw, vice president of worldwide commercial and enterprise marketing for AMD, said clock speed isn’t the only indicator of performance.

“We believe our 2Ghz parts will be competitive or better than anything 2.6Ghz or better from Xeon today,” he told, referring to Intel’s quad-core Xeon processor.

There’s more than just the clock speed of the processor to take into account, he argued. “For some customers right now, the clock speed isn’t the issue. They’re focused on high efficiency parts as part of the announcement,” he said. “We have a tremendous base out there that says clock speed isn’t the biggest driver. There are other things, like memory access and I/O.”

AMD is claiming that an upgrade from the existing dual-core Opterons to the quad-core Opteron could mean a performance increase up to 70 percent on certain database applications and up to 40 percent on certain floating point applications.

Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research, said not to focus on clock speed. “They’re doubling the number of processor cores. That’s like going from a 4 cylinder engine to an 8 cylinder engine,” he told “You don’t need to generate the same RPMs to generate horsepower because you’ve got a bigger engine. That’s why you go to quad-core, and you need to keep the clock in check to keep the thermal budget,” he said.

The doubling of cores is offset by some bottlenecks between memory and CPU, but Massimini said he had “no reason not to believe” AMD claims of up to 70 percent performance improvement, even with a slower clock speed.

“Frankly, I think being able to keep that frequency in check is a good thing,” he said. “It comes down to greater efficiency from parallel microarchitectures. That’s where they derive efficiency. And frankly I don’t expect anything different from Intel.”

The Barcelona line has been the focus of AMD’s efforts in recent months. The company has heavily touted the fact that it has four native, fully integrated cores on the die compared to the two dual cores on one physical die in Intel’s  Xeon 5300.

Barcelona processors have been designed to be socket and thermal compatible with the current generation AMD Opteron processors. All that’s required to update an existing Opteron computer to a Barcelona chip is to pop out the older chip and do a BIOS  upgrade.

(Update adds comments from AMD and Massimini.)

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