AMD unveils plans for six- and 12-core chips

Vendor intends to move beyond dual and quad-core processors

AMD has announced plans to release a six-core chip next year and a 12-core chip in 2010.

Earlier this year, the chipmaker early this year released several chips and a key chip set. Now, it is laying out a roadmap for its servers and workstations and outlining its plans for moving beyond quad-core processors.

Randy Allen, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's server and workstation division, says the company's first 45-nanometer (nm) chip, code-named Shanghai, is still slated to ship in the second half of this year. If AMD meets that deadline, its quad-core debut in 45-nm manufacturing will be about a year behind Intel's move from 65-nm to 45-nm technology.

Similarly, AMD's updated roadmap puts it about a year behind rival Intel in terms of coming up with a six-core chip. Allen says AMD is looking at shipping its six-core processor, code-named Istanbul, in the second half of 2009. Intel announced in March that it plans to release its six-core chip in the second half of this year.

"While these announcements are welcome news from AMD, they need to pick up the pace," says Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "It's widely assumed that Intel will deliver six-core processors before the end of '08. If this is true, or even if Intel's schedule slips a quarter or so, AMD will be in the unenviable position of being almost a year behind Intel. It boils down to being 365 days late and many, many dollars short in terms of margin."

AMD's Allen says the native six-core is being aimed at customers who want more performance than a quad-core can provide, but may not have the multi-threaded software yet that could take advantage of eight-cores and up.

"We decided the six-core was really the sweet spot we wanted to attack," he says. "We thought this was what was needed in terms of workloads."

But AMD is looking beyond even six cores and promising to release a 12-core chip, code-named Magny-Cours, in 2010.

Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, notes that AMD, which has evangelised its native multi-core chips for years, isn't going native with its upcoming 12-core processor. Traditionally, AMD has distinguished itself from Intel by building a native quad-core chip, for example. The difference boils down to AMD running four processing cores on a single die of silicon. Intel, on the other hand, uses two dual-core processors and connects them so they work together.

However, with its upcoming 12-core chip, AMD plans on connecting two six-cores instead of building a single 12-core.

"That was sort of heresy with their messages before," says McCarron. "I think the economics are factoring in. They're in a tougher economic environment. Could they make a native 12-core? Sure. Could they do it in a cost-effective way? Probably not and neither could their competitor."

Olds says there might be some grumbling in the industry that AMD is backing off its native multi-core stance.

"There will be, but only because AMD made such a big deal about it when they introduced their quad-cores," he says. "They made their bed and will now have to toss and turn in it for a while," he says.

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