AMD shows sunny side of Barcelona

Sure enough, quad-core chips are more powerful than dual-core chips. But it only counts if they are available to buy.

SAN FRANCISCO--Advanced Micro Devices is ready to start fighting back against Intel with silicon, but Intel has an answer in the waiting.

AMD demonstrated its Barcelona quad-core server chip for reporters and analysts here Monday, comparing its performance to one of AMD's dual-core Opteron processors. This marked the first time AMD shared Barcelona performance information with anyone outside of its server partners and internal folks, said Randy Allen, corporate vice president for server and workstations at AMD.

The company is on track to ship Barcelona in production volumes sometime around the middle of this year, Allen said. Server vendors already have samples of the quad-core chip, and systems are expected to start arriving in the third quarter, he said.

Barcelona represents AMD's current hope for returning to profitability by stabilizing its server processor prices. The company has been forced to dramatically cut the prices of its dual-core Opteron processors to compete with Intel's quad-core server processors, which have been on the market since last November.

The hope is that Barcelona's design, in which four processing cores rest on the same piece of silicon, delivers enough of a performance boost over Intel's quad-core Xeon chip to once again attract demanding server buyers. Intel chose to put two dual-core chips into a single package for its first quad-core processors in order to get out in the market well ahead of AMD; AMD contends that's an inelegant design that doesn't solve Intel's problems with memory bandwidth.

Still, Intel has quad-core chips now for those who want them, while AMD doesn't. Until then, AMD is talking up the performance of Barcelona as it works to get the chips ready for prime time.

The company ran a demo comparing the performance of two four-socket servers, one using the quad-core Barcelona chip and one using a dual-core Opteron chip. The demo measured the performance of the chips on an imaging benchmark called POV-Ray, and as you might expect, the quad-core chip finished its task quicker than the dual-core chip.

The quad-core chip processed about 4,000 pixels per second in rendering the image, while the dual-core chip could only hit around 2,000 pixels per second. Allen said Barcelona was not running at the fastest clock speed that will be available at launch, although he declined to specify the speeds that will be available.

AMD did not test Barcelona's performance against one of Intel's quad-core Clovertown Xeon processors, but Allen said Barcelona "will be the highest-performing x86 chip out there. It will blow away Clovertown."

But soon after AMD's Barcelona arrives, Intel will launch its Penryn processors, which are expected to be a significant improvement once again over the current generation. Allen said he couldn't project Barcelona's performance against Penryn, since Intel hasn't published any benchmark results based on the forthcoming chip.

Intel did announce several performance results for Penryn chips at its Intel Developer Forum in Beijing last month, but those were preliminary results that have not been published by a benchmarking organization, an Intel representative said.

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