AMD’s current competitive situation is rather difficult. For high-end MP servers and some HPC workloads, AMD is still regarded as the king of the hill. However, in almost every other segment, Intel is the performance and often power efficiency leader. This translates into significant financial problems for AMD, as the high-end server market is small (but lucrative) and HPC is generally very competitive for pricing. While this situation is reminiscent of the eve of the Opteron launch, in many ways AMD is better positioned than they were in early 2003.
In early 2003, AMD had no presence in the server market, and was not a particularly credible player since they had no track record. Moreover, AMD did not even have particularly strong ties with any of the server vendors. Today, AMD is an acknowledged participant in the server world, and is not perceived as a ‘follower’. AMD has also made significant sales and marketing in-roads with the major OEMs, including the last major holdout, Dell. At the same time, AMD has badly blundered with their channel partners – some of the earliest adopters and risk takers who pushed Opteron, and Intel has recently moved aggressively to court channel partners.
To date, AMD has only given a few hints on the frequencies and the expected performance for Barcelona. AMD has publicly predicted a 50% advantage over a Xeon 5355 (2.66GHz quad core) in SPECfp_rate2006, and a 20% advantage for SPECint_rate2006. Of course, AMD’s competition when Barcelona arrives will be a faster 3GHz processor from Intel, and later a 3.2GHz Penryn based design, using a 1.6GHz bus. Perhaps more importantly, SPECint and SPECfp only address a portion of the workloads that AMD and Intel target.
While AMD has not disclosed frequencies or TDP yet, rumors point to 1.9-2.6GHz in 100MHz steps with thermal envelopes of 68, 95 and 120W. Additionally, AMD is very likely to increase the frequency of Barcelona over the lifetime of the processor because of their approach to manufacturing. AMD tends to continuously improve their process, and these improvements should translate into incremental speed bumps along the way for their processors.
Looking at a comparison of the three microarchitectures, the K8, Core 2 and Barcelona below, shows some performance hints. For many of the most important features, AMD and Intel should be matched microarchitecturally because AMD has incorporated quite a few of the techniques that Intel used to boost the per clock efficiency of the Core 2. While it does appear that the Core 2 is 33% wider than Barcelona, in reality, neither processor comes close to peak capabilities on real code, so the performance will be much closer than the block diagrams imply. Barcelona’s 3-wide issue, execute and retire capabilities are not a performance problem.
Figure 7 – Microarchitecture Comparison
Given all this information, and existing knowledge about AMD and Intel’s technical strengths and weaknesses it is possible to estimate how the competitive landscape will look towards the latter part of this year. At a high level Barcelona should provide an edge in multithreaded performance, but not an insurmountable one. Depending on clock speed, Intel may retain the performance crown for single threaded performance – which is essential for client systems.