AMD ups ante with four-core chips

Intel's plans for such processors have been matched. Ben Ames reports

AMD will ship four-core processors by mid-2007, company chief technology officer Phil Hester says. The chips will be for use in servers, workstations and high-end desktops.

A new dual-core design for mainstream desktops will also be launched around that time, Hester says. All four processors will use AMD’s new 65-nanometer process chip architecture, he told analysts at the company’s recent annual Technology Day.

AMD has led Intel in the move to dual-core processors, but Intel is set to raise the stakes by shipping four-core chips in mid-2007. AMD’s announcement will allow it to match that bid.

In addition to building chips with more processing cores and smaller components, AMD also wants to build more efficient products — it has also revealed plans to build a highly efficient dual-core notebook processor, set for release in the second half of 2007.

Power efficiency is a major theme in the company’s constant battle with Intel. AMD often claims superior power efficiency, expressed as performance-per-watt. The new family of chips will continue that theme by implementing a system that changes the frequency in each core to match its workload, Hester says.

Compared to today’s Opteron processor-powered servers, that approach will boost efficiency by 60% in 2007 and 150% in 2008.

Likewise, AMD will use a similar approach to control power drain in the next-generation mobile processor. That dual-core chip will switch the power on or off in its cores, using only enough power to match the demands of its workload.

At the analyst event, AMD also disclosed plans to open up its chip design to third-party developers, an effort the company has code-named “Torrenza”. AMD hopes the effort will help it gain more partners among PC vendors in its effort to chip market share away from Intel.

Under the Torrenza plan, AMD will share the company’s chip design with third-party developers, allowing them to develop application-specific co-processors to work alongside AMD chips in a multisocket system.

The company also shared new market strategies to cut costs for IT managers by delivering a security bundle and by promoting thin-client computing.

AMD will offer software tools to its OEM partners, allowing them to reduce IT costs for commercial client and server platforms by linking three features — security, virtualisation and manageability.

These open business models could spell success for AMD in its efforts to enlist more partners, analysts say.

“If Torrenza will play up to their Direct Connect architecture, that means they will be pushing that architecture in general. That is an excellent opportunity to leverage openness and cultivate the entire ecosystem,” says IDC analyst Kelly Quinn.

AMD also shed a little light on its roadmap for shrinking the wires and gates on its microprocessors.

It is already making processors using a 90 nanometer (nm) process but by the end of the year it expects to be producing 65nm process chips. It will move to a 45nm process by 2008 and shrink to 32nm by 2010. AMD is even working on 22nm technology today, in a joint research arrangement with IBM.

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