As Intel ships 10 millionth quad-core, AMD gets it in gear

Intel has hit the 10 million mark for quad-core processors shipped. AMD is now in a position to step up and ship millions of its own quad-core chips.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Intel has hit a milestone of 10 million quad-core processors shipped. But this time Advanced Micro Devices--with the worst apparently behind it--appears ready to respond. The No. 2 processor manufacturer is about to add Sun Microsystems and IBM to its quad-core customer list.

Intel quad-core 7300 series processor
Intel quad-core 7300 series processor Intel

Intel has shipped more than 10 million quad-core processors to date, including more than 3.5 million units shipped in the first quarter of 2008, according to market researcher Mercury Research. "Intel's 10 million unit milestone reflects the benefits (of) the rapid move to 45nm (manufacturing), allowing quad-core processors to become much more prevalent in the company's high performance product mix," said Dean McCarron, founder and principal analyst of Mercury Research in a statement.

But the days of Intel having large quad-core market segments virtually to itself are over. Hewlett-Packard and Dell now offer servers with AMD's "Barcelona" quad-core Opteron processor.

And server giants Sun Microsystems and IBM are next. Both companies said they are getting set to ship Barcelona-based servers, according to company spokespeople. Sun Microsystems said it will ship systems in May and IBM said systems will appear "this summer."

AMD has long claimed that its quad-core chip has advantages over Intel because of a built-in memory controller--for better memory sharing across many processors--and strong floating point performance. These are the very reasons the Texas Advanced Computing Center selected AMD's quad-core Barcelona processors for its supercomputer that will house more than 60,000 processors when it's completed.

That said, AMD has a lot of catching up to do. Though the company said in its first-quarter 2008 earnings conference call that it shipped more than half a million quad-core processors in that quarter (about 100,000 more than the fourth quarter of 2007), eight months have past since Barcelona was introduced(September, 2007). And until recently the only takers of quad-core Barcelona chips had been select high-performance computing (HPC) customers such as the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Mainstream server vendors had put off Barcelona deployment because of the now-infamous "TLB" processor bug, among other issues. Phenom quad-core processors, on the other hand, have been shipping to system builders for a few months.

The problem is that Intel has pulled way ahead of AMD in the interim. "Intel is a full (manufacturing) process generation ahead," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at CRT Capital Group. A growing percentage of Intel processors shipped to customers are built on the 45-nanometer (nm) processor while AMD is shipping 65nm chips. AMD is slated to shift to 45nm at the end of this year.