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AMD maps out server plans for next two years

Company executives are laying out AMD's plans for the future Thursday, and the server group will have a brand-new architecture for 2009.

SUNNYVALE, Calif.--AMD will unveil a new chip design in 2009 for the server market and faster versions of its Barcelona quad-core chip later this year, company executives said Thursday.

AMD's near-term goal is to get its Barcelona quad-core chip out into the market. The company has already said it plans to launch Barcelona chips at 2GHz later this quarter, but it also plans to ship faster versions of those chips in the fourth quarter, said Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD's server products division, at a technology analyst meeting at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.

The 2GHz launch speed had underwhelmed analysts who were expecting a faster debut from Barcelona, a quad-core server chip that AMD desperately needs to shore up the average selling prices of its server chips. Intel has been cutting into AMD's margins with its own quad-core chips, launched late last year as a package of two dual-core chips. Some purists considered that an inelegant design, but customers haven't seemed to mind.

Barcelona will come in three varieties, Allen said. The mainstream version will account for 77 percent of AMD's quad-core shipments and will debut at 2GHz. A more power-efficient version will debut at 1.9GHz, with faster speeds available later in the year, and a high-performance version will arrive in the fourth quarter at 2.3GHz or faster, he said.

But AMD also needs to show customers that it has a solid road map, so the company is trickling out details about future chips today.

Shanghai will come next year as a shrunken version of Barcelona built on AMD's 45-nanometer manufacturing technology. Both Shanghai and Barcelona will fit into chipsets that are currently available for AMD's dual-core chips.

And then, in 2009, AMD will come out with a new core design code-named Sandtiger and a new underlying platform timed to the uptake of DDR3 memory, Allen said. AMD's integrated memory controller design means that it has to tweak that controller every time a new memory standard becomes the king of the hill.

Sandtiger will use a new design Allen referred to as Direct Connect 2. This will involve four Hypertransport links on each chip, up from the current three, and will come with an AMD-designed server chipset.

Stay tuned for more details on AMD's future plans over the rest of the day. I'll update this post once I retrieve the thermal information for the three Barcelona varieties. AMD's apparently planning to show us 14 million PowerPoint slides today, and they are whizzing past.

UPDATED 10:05 a.m.: AMD let us take a coffee break, during which I found out that Sandtiger will be an eight-core processor built on the 45nm manufacturing technology. Like Barcelona, it will also be a monolithic design with eight cores all integrated onto a single chip.

AMD Chief Technology Officer Phil Hester smiled when asked just how large a chip that would be, declining to specify a die size but assuring me it would be "economically attractive." The surface area of a processor is a huge factor in manufacturing and profitability, since the larger the chip, the fewer number of chips you can cut from a silicon wafer. Jim McGregor, an analyst with In-Stat, hinted that AMD would likely have a fundamentally new--and smaller--core design for that generation to make the manufacturing folks happy.