The Coming Quad Wars

By Michael Feldman

August 17, 2007

Being in the x86 processor space has always been a double-edged sword for AMD. The market for this architecture, probably the most widely used ISA for general-purpose computing, is enormous. But so is the competition.

Intel dwarfs AMD by any measurement. In 2006, Intel’s net revenue was $35.38 billion, compared to $5.65 billion for AMD. In fact, last year Intel’s R&D spending alone — $5.87 billion — was larger the AMD’s entire revenue stream. This disparity is manifesting itself as AMD gets ready to release its much-anticipated “Barcelona” quad-core processor and Intel prepares to launch its new 45nm Penryn family.

On Tuesday, DailyTech reported that Intel is planning to release its first 45nm Penryn server chips on November 11, just nine weeks after the expected September 10 Barcelona release (and just in time for the 2007 Supercomputing Conference and Expo). Apparently the Penryn information was inadvertently placed on an unprotected Intel website. The 45nm shrink represents the next “tick” in Intel’s “tick-tock” processor development strategy.

With AMD just beginning its 65nm Opteron deliveries at almost the same time that Intel is introducing its 45nm Xeon chips, it looks like AMD will be nearly a full process technology cycle behind its rival. While transistor size and technology isn’t everything, it does offer the leader some fundamental advantages. For example, getting to 65nm ahead of AMD helped Intel deliver quad-core processors almost a year in advance of its rival. AMD is quick to remind us that the Intel designs are not “true” quad-core processors, since they rely on plugging two dual-core chips into a single socket. But that’s of little consequence to customers. The dual-dual chips achieve respectable performance numbers. The new Xeon L5335 Intel just announced this week is a 2.0GHz quad that consumes only 50 watts — a mere 12.5 watts per core.

While AMD is still ahead of the game in system design, using HyperTransport and an integrated memory controller to achieve better multicore integration and energy efficiency, the lack of a quad-core offering over the last ten months created an opportunity for Intel to retake market share, especially in the server space. With the quad-core Barcelona, AMD has a chance to recover some lost momentum. To its detriment, the company has over-hyped its new product and its vision of dealing a death blow to the Intel quads will not be realized. AMD scaled back the initial chip to a modest 2.0GHz, which is significantly less that the original target of 2.6GHz.

Because of the slower clock, AMD has backed away from claims of integer performance superiority for its initial Barcelona offering. However, the company still expects to beat the current raft of Xeons in floating point performance. It’s all but impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison of processors these days, given the variation of CPU caches, clocks and power envelopes. But assuming the first Opteron quad-core will be a 2.0GHz processor at 95 watts, a comparable chip in the Intel stable might be the 2.6GHz Xeon X5355 quad-core, but which runs a hotter at 120 watts (and that doesn’t include the off-chip memory controller). AMD is claiming a 2.0GHz Barcelona should yield a peak SPECfp_rate2006 result of 69.5; Intel reports 58.9 for the Xeon X5355. So if the first quad-core Opteron out of the chute can put up these kinds of numbers against a comparable Xeon and use less power, that bodes well for the new Opteron line, especially in the floating-point-loving high performance technical computing market.

But if Intel does release Penryn-based Xeons a couple of months after the Barcelona launch, AMD’s performance edge will be in jeopardy. Because the Penryn processors will use the advanced high-K dielectric and metal gate transistor design for its 45nm manufacturing technology, these chips will be able to achieve significantly better performance within a given power envelope compared to their 65nm counterparts. I’m guessing that the Penryn launch will nullify any floating point performance advantage AMD will achieve with their first quad-core Opterons and widen Intel’s integer performance advantage. AMD, of course, will not be sitting still. They’re expected to come out with both higher performing and lower power versions of their quad offering following the initial September introduction. So by the time November rolls around, we could have a real horse race.

But being an entire process technology iteration behind their rival will be a heavy burden for AMD. Intel will have a lot of latitude in targeting performance or energy consumption with the new transistor technology. If we can believe the Penryn information leaked by Intel, the top of the line X5460 quad-core will clock in at 3.16GHz and dissipate 120 watts; the low-end quad-core L5410 will run at 2.33GHz and use just 50 watts. Until AMD can move to 45nm, which it plans to do in 2008, it will have to be content to find design tradeoffs where it can tweak the clock speed or exploit energy savings on the 65nm chips.

The only good news for AMD is that the Penryn chips will still rely on the antiquated Front Side Bus (FSB) and off-chip memory controllers. However, this will not be the case for Intel’s next-generation Nehalem microarchitecture due in 2008 — the next “tock” in the tick-tock strategy. Nehalem is expected to jettison the FSB in favor of a more HyperTransport-like system interconnect and use an integrated memory controller. There’s even talk of including a GPU on some Nehalem processors. The fact that Intel is following in its smaller rival’s footsteps is probably of little consolation to AMD at this point.

For AMD to compete effectively in the x86 server market, it has to be on par with Intel’s semiconductor technology. That doesn’t mean AMD has to embrace the same technologies or have the same manufacturing structure as Intel, but if Opteron transistors are always going to be bigger and leakier than Xeon transistors, that seems unsustainable in the long run.

Since AMD relies heavily on IBM for its process technology R&D, maybe it’s time to invest more heavily in that partnership — or develop a larger alliance of companies that it can use for both semiconductor research and manufacturing. Big Blue itself would not appear to be as motivated as AMD is in outgunning Intel chips, since IBM’s own Power and PowerPC processors aren’t in direct competition with the Xeons. (Itaniums, of course, are another matter.) Indeed, IBM manufactures both Xeon- and Opteron-based servers. That means AMD itself needs to find a way to drive the process. But time is not on their side. Tick-tock.

—–

As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at editor@hpcwire.com.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

HPC Career Notes: August 2021 Edition

August 4, 2021

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it’s a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we’ Read more…

The Promise (and Necessity) of Runtime Systems like Charm++ in Exascale Power Management

August 4, 2021

Big heterogeneous computer systems, especially forthcoming exascale computers, are power hungry and difficult to program effectively. This is, of course, not an unrecognized problem. In a recent blog, Charmworks’ CEO S Read more…

Digging into the Atos-Nimbix Deal: Big US HPC and Global Cloud Aspirations. Look out HPE?

August 2, 2021

Behind Atos’s deal announced last week to acquire HPC-cloud specialist Nimbix are ramped-up plans to penetrate the U.S. HPC market and global expansion of its HPC cloud capabilities. Nimbix will become “an Atos HPC c Read more…

Berkeley Lab Makes Strides in Autonomous Discovery to Tackle the Data Deluge

August 2, 2021

Data production is outpacing the human capacity to process said data. Whether a giant radio telescope, a new particle accelerator or lidar data from autonomous cars, the sheer scale of the data generated is increasingly Read more…

Verifying the Universe with Exascale Computers

July 30, 2021

The ExaSky project, one of the critical Earth and Space Science applications being solved by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Exascale Computing Project (ECP), is preparing to use the nation’s forthcoming exas Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Pushing pixels, not data with NICE DCV

NICE DCV, our high-performance, low-latency remote-display protocol, was originally created for scientists and engineers who ran large workloads on far-away supercomputers, but needed to visualize data without moving it. Read more…

What’s After Exascale? The Internet of Workflows Says HPE’s Nicolas Dubé

July 29, 2021

With the race to exascale computing in its final leg, it’s natural to wonder what the Post Exascale Era will look like. Nicolas Dubé, VP and chief technologist for HPE’s HPC business unit, agrees and shared his vision at Supercomputing Frontiers Europe 2021 held last week. The next big thing, he told the virtual audience at SFE21, is something that will connect HPC and (broadly) all of IT – into what Dubé calls The Internet of Workflows. Read more…

Digging into the Atos-Nimbix Deal: Big US HPC and Global Cloud Aspirations. Look out HPE?

August 2, 2021

Behind Atos’s deal announced last week to acquire HPC-cloud specialist Nimbix are ramped-up plans to penetrate the U.S. HPC market and global expansion of its Read more…

What’s After Exascale? The Internet of Workflows Says HPE’s Nicolas Dubé

July 29, 2021

With the race to exascale computing in its final leg, it’s natural to wonder what the Post Exascale Era will look like. Nicolas Dubé, VP and chief technologist for HPE’s HPC business unit, agrees and shared his vision at Supercomputing Frontiers Europe 2021 held last week. The next big thing, he told the virtual audience at SFE21, is something that will connect HPC and (broadly) all of IT – into what Dubé calls The Internet of Workflows. Read more…

How UK Scientists Developed Transformative, HPC-Powered Coronavirus Sequencing System

July 29, 2021

In November 2020, the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) won the HPCwire Readers’ Choice Award for Best HPC Collaboration for its CLIMB-COVID sequencing project. Launched in March 2020, CLIMB-COVID has now resulted in the sequencing of over 675,000 coronavirus genomes – an increasingly critical task as variants like Delta threaten the tenuous prospect of a return to normalcy in much of the world. Read more…

IBM and University of Tokyo Roll Out Quantum System One in Japan

July 27, 2021

IBM and the University of Tokyo today unveiled an IBM Quantum System One as part of the IBM-Japan quantum program announced in 2019. The system is the second IB Read more…

Intel Unveils New Node Names; Sapphire Rapids Is Now an ‘Intel 7’ CPU

July 27, 2021

What's a preeminent chip company to do when its process node technology lags the competition by (roughly) one generation, but outmoded naming conventions make it seem like it's two nodes behind? For Intel, the response was to change how it refers to its nodes with the aim of better reflecting its positioning within the leadership semiconductor manufacturing space. Intel revealed its new node nomenclature, and... Read more…

Will Approximation Drive Post-Moore’s Law HPC Gains?

July 26, 2021

“Hardware-based improvements are going to get more and more difficult,” said Neil Thompson, an innovation scholar at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). “I think that’s something that this crowd will probably, actually, be already familiar with.” Thompson, speaking... Read more…

With New Owner and New Roadmap, an Independent Omni-Path Is Staging a Comeback

July 23, 2021

Put on a shelf by Intel in 2019, Omni-Path faced a uncertain future, but under new custodian Cornelis Networks, OmniPath is looking to make a comeback as an independent high-performance interconnect solution. A "significant refresh" – called Omni-Path Express – is coming later this year according to the company. Cornelis Networks formed last September as a spinout of Intel's Omni-Path division. Read more…

Chameleon’s HPC Testbed Sharpens Its Edge, Presses ‘Replay’

July 22, 2021

“One way of saying what I do for a living is to say that I develop scientific instruments,” said Kate Keahey, a senior fellow at the University of Chicago a Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Berkeley Lab Debuts Perlmutter, World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer

May 27, 2021

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held virtually at Berkeley Lab's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) today marked the official launch of Perlmutter – aka NERSC-9 – the GPU-accelerated supercomputer built by HPE in partnership with Nvidia and AMD. Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer called Dojo to process truly vast amounts of video data. It’s a beast! … A truly useful exaflop at de facto FP32.” Read more…

Google Launches TPU v4 AI Chips

May 20, 2021

Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke for only one minute and 42 seconds about the company’s latest TPU v4 Tensor Processing Units during his keynote at the Google I Read more…

CentOS Replacement Rocky Linux Is Now in GA and Under Independent Control

June 21, 2021

The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) is announcing the general availability of Rocky Linux, release 8.4, designed as a drop-in replacement for the soon-to-be discontinued CentOS. The GA release is launching six-and-a-half months after Red Hat deprecated its support for the widely popular, free CentOS server operating system. The Rocky Linux development effort... Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

Iran Gains HPC Capabilities with Launch of ‘Simorgh’ Supercomputer

May 18, 2021

Iran is said to be developing domestic supercomputing technology to advance the processing of scientific, economic, political and military data, and to strengthen the nation’s position in the age of AI and big data. On Sunday, Iran unveiled the Simorgh supercomputer, which will deliver.... Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

AMD-Xilinx Deal Gains UK, EU Approvals — China’s Decision Still Pending

July 1, 2021

AMD’s planned acquisition of FPGA maker Xilinx is now in the hands of Chinese regulators after needed antitrust approvals for the $35 billion deal were receiv Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized in his keynote, Nvidia doesn’t plan to build... Read more…

Microsoft to Provide World’s Most Powerful Weather & Climate Supercomputer for UK’s Met Office

April 22, 2021

More than 14 months ago, the UK government announced plans to invest £1.2 billion ($1.56 billion) into weather and climate supercomputing, including procuremen Read more…

Quantum Roundup: IBM, Rigetti, Phasecraft, Oxford QC, China, and More

July 13, 2021

IBM yesterday announced a proof for a quantum ML algorithm. A week ago, it unveiled a new topology for its quantum processors. Last Friday, the Technical Univer Read more…

Q&A with Jim Keller, CTO of Tenstorrent, and an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021

April 22, 2021

As part of our HPCwire Person to Watch series, we are happy to present our interview with Jim Keller, president and chief technology officer of Tenstorrent. One of the top chip architects of our time, Keller has had an impactful career. Read more…

Frontier to Meet 20MW Exascale Power Target Set by DARPA in 2008

July 14, 2021

After more than a decade of planning, the United States’ first exascale computer, Frontier, is set to arrive at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) later this year. Crossing this “1,000x” horizon required overcoming four major challenges: power demand, reliability, extreme parallelism and data movement. Read more…

Senate Debate on Bill to Remake NSF – the Endless Frontier Act – Begins

May 18, 2021

The U.S. Senate today opened floor debate on the Endless Frontier Act which seeks to remake and expand the National Science Foundation by creating a technology Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire