AMD Winds Down Year on a Sour Note

By Michael Feldman

December 14, 2007

It wasn’t easy being AMD for the last 12 months. By any measurement, 2007 was a miserable year for the company. Its stock, profits, market share and reputation have all taken a beating at a time when the company had expected to be using its quad-core processors to run rings around arch-rival Intel. Starting with losing its exclusive x86 relationship with Sun Microsystems in January to botching the Barcelona production ramp in November and December, nothing seemed to go right for AMD in 2007.

A lot of the company’s current troubles were set in motion by events in 2006, when Intel began its full court offensive against its smaller rival. By aggressively introducing new x86 product lines in the latter half of 2006 and by lowering chip prices, Intel started regaining market share, especially in the server space, which it had been losing to AMD since the introduction of the dual-core Opteron in 2005. In November 2006, Intel introduced the first x86 quad-core processors, beating AMD by almost a full year.

After AMD acquired ATI in October 2006, the effort of bringing the graphics chipmaker into the fold seemed to throw the chipmaker off its game. Now that it was delivering both CPUs and GPUs, AMD had to face the dual rivalry of Intel and NVIDIA. Over the ensuing 12 months, the company lost its x86 mojo.

When Sun Microsystems decided to form an alliance with Intel in January 2007 and introduce Xeon-based servers alongside its Opteron-based servers, AMD didn’t really suffer much in the deal, but it symbolized the loss of the Opteron’s momentum that had been in force since AMD first introduced the 64-bit x86 architecture in 2003. Soon after the Sun defection, Intel unveiled its 45nm processor technology, announcing its intent to introduce the new technology into commercial products later in 2007. The company made good on its plans, introducing the first 45nm Penryn chips in November, at a time when AMD was just starting to ship its first 65nm Opterons.

Meanwhile AMD’s plans to leverage ATI graphics chips for the high performance technical computing market were being outflanked by NVIDIA. Both companies announced initial GPGPU product offerings in 2006, but only NVIDIA brought a coherent product to market in 2007, with their CUDA programming environment and Tesla devices for high performance computing.

While Intel was flexing its quads in 2007, AMD kept itself busy nudging the ship date out for its initial “Barcelona” Opterons, which were originally scheduled to be delivered in mid-2007. When the quad Opterons were finally introduced in September, their relative speed and performance, compared to Intel’s latest chips, didn’t match the hype AMD had been feeding the industry over the past year. In the ensuing weeks, there were reports that AMD was having trouble meeting demand for the new quad-core processors. Rumors of chip yield problems abounded.

Which brings us to this week.

With the new Opteron chips shipping for three months, it was revealed that a bug related to the operation of the translation lookaside buffer (TLB) was found back in November by AMD. The bug (Erratum 298) affects the integrity of the data cache under certain circumstances. Apparently, this is most serious in commercial enterprise applications that use virtualization technology. At some point, the company decided to stop shipping Barcelona parts into the channel and to most system manufacturers. The end result is that the quad-core Opteron ramp-up won’t take place until Q1 2008, when they’ll have a fix for the bug in silicon. To add insult to injury, since the chips are no longer “generally available,” the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) benchmarks associated with the quad-core Opteron will be removed from the SPEC website.

However, thousands of quad-core Opterons were delivered to high performance computing installations. Mercury Research reported 39 thousand quad-core Opteron chips were shipped in the third quarter. The Ranger supercomputer installation at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), alone, has 16 thousand of them. Since the TLB bug can be addressed with either a BIOS fix or a Linux kernel patch, presumably one or the other will be used at these sites to get around the problem. The BIOS fix comes with a 5 to 20 percent performance penalty, while the Linux workaround is said not to impact performance. In general though, most OEMs would be loathe to ship an uncertified patched OS kernel, but things work a little differently in big HPC deployments, where there’s a more intimate relationship between the system suppliers and the user.

According to the folks at TACC, the Opteron bug is not impacting the new Ranger supercomputer installation. The deployment there is now in full swing. Early users are being brought up on the system this week, with full production slated for next month. No word on which fix they used for the TLB problem.

Cray is moving forward on its Opteron-based supercomputer deployments as well. Apparently they chose to use the Linux workaround to avoid the TLB bug. “[O]ur early performance tests show that there is virtually no performance impact when using the Linux operating environment software,” stated Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. “In cooperation with AMD, we are running more tests and working closely with our early quad-core customers to determine delivery plans.”

Presumably, smaller HPC cluster deployments from vendors like HP, IBM, Dell, and Sun using the new quad Opterons with vanilla Linux won’t take place until new silicon is shipped in 2008. Bad news for HPC customers and AMD’s revenue. But hey, as anyone in the chipmaking business knows, errata happens. While I believe the new quad-core Opterons are great processors technically, overall product execution will determine the commercial success of the product. Because of the delayed production, it’s likely we won’t see volume deployments of quad-core Opteron-based clusters until next spring.

If all that weren’t bad enough, on Wednesday AMD filed a Material Impairments document with the SEC, stating that the company will take a “goodwill impairment charge” related to the ATI acquisition. In English, this means the company is admitting it paid too much for ATI and is going to take a substantial write-down in the current quarter to reflect what it believes is now the real value of the ATI business. The dollar value will be decided in the next few days.

On Thursday morning, AMD held a financial analysts meeting to explain the current state of the company and the future business strategy. In the meeting, the AMD execs portrayed the their situation with the “glass half full” metaphor, noting that from Q1 to Q3 the company has improved its average selling prices and gross margins, and moved ahead in the mobile market. They also managed a successful transition to the 65nm process technology and launched the 600 series GPUs. But how could “half full” apply to a year in which the company did not turn in a profitable quarter, had its stock lose more than a third of its value, and had its server market share drop from 26 percent to 13 percent? One might ask what a “glass quarter full” year would be like.

Much of the recent analyst and investor angst is, of course, about the debacle of the quad-core Barcelona launch. But AMD president and chief operating officer Dirk Meyer tried to play down the importance of the recent Opteron problems. He rejected the notion that the company needs to have the highest performing CPU in the market to ensure its success. “The prevailing wisdom is wrong,” declared Meyer. “The lion’s share of the market opportunity isn’t looking for the highest performing CPU. They’re looking for value, energy efficiency, great visual performance, and affordable Internet connectivity.”

An aggressive product map in 2008 will focus on what AMD considers the volume and revenue sweet spots: the desktop, notebook, mobile and HDTV markets. The company is going to devote particular attention to the commercial desktop and notebook space, where they see a large revenue opportunity. AMD plans to leverage its CPU and GPU chips to build platforms targeted at all these markets.

As far as the enterprise and HPC space goes, AMD claims it will not let Intel claim the high ground for the x86. “Hell no,” replied Mario Rivas, AMD executive vice president of the Computing Products Group, when asked if the company was going to cede the high end to its bigger rival. In mid-2008, AMD plans to introduce “Shanghai,” the 45nm generation of the quad-core Opteron. However, since the 65nm Opterons won’t ship in volume until late Q1 or early Q2, a new 45nm product line in Q3 would bump against the previous generation just as it was (hopefully) starting to generate some momentum. Maybe they have a pricing strategy that will allow both products to move forward in parallel for a while, but it seems like competition from Intel’s 45nm Xeon processors is going to force them to ditch the 65nm Opteron chips before too long — assuming they roll-out the 45nm technology on schedule.

Right now, AMD’s number one priority for 2008 is to return to profitability. Since they’ve identified the volume markets as the way to do that, their Opteron platform is bound to get relatively less attention. How that plays out for the high performance computing market should be one of the more interesting developments to watch in 2008.

—–

As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at [email protected].

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!

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

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've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

What’s New in HPC Research: Mosquitoes, [email protected], the Last Journey & More

June 29, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This