The "complicated" design that AMD chose for Barcelona, its first quad-core server processor, caused more than six months of delays before the chip was ready, CEO Hector Ruiz told the San Jose Mercury News.
In an interview published in Sunday's Mercury News (the excerpts don't seem to be online yet), Ruiz said "every time we ran into a gotcha (or a technical glitch), it created a six-week-or-so hole in the schedule as we went back and fixed it. We hoped we wouldn't get many of those, but in the Barcelona case, we got more than we thought. By the time we got through fixing them all, we were six months-plus later from where we originally wanted to be."
That's been a very difficult six months for AMD, as its server division suffered through a price war without a fresh new product to parade before server buyers.
AMD chose to put four processor cores on a single piece of silicon when creating Barcelona. The company thinks that this will deliver better performance than Intel's method of building a quad-core chip, but it was trickier to implement. Intel simply put two dual-core chips together in a single package, and while that won't win any awards from chip design purists, it did allow Intel to ship quad-core chips in November of last year. Barcelona is only now shipping to AMD's partners, and it will be formally launched on September 10, Ruiz confirmed.
The delay, along with Intel price cuts, forced AMD to significantly discount the prices of its dual-core server chips to compete and eroded its profits. You have to wonder whether AMD could have released a packaged quad-core chip months ago while still working on Barcelona if it had bit the bullet and given up on its "native quad-core" marketing strategy.
That might have erased AMD's biggest advantage over Intel: the integrated memory controller it uses to deliver a fast pipeline between the processor and system memory. And given AMD's manufacturing constraints late last year while waiting for its new 65-nanometer facility to come online in Dresden, packaged quad-core chips might not have been feasible.
But you've got to think that AMD would have loved to have any kind of quad-core design out earlier this year, so it could have competed against Intel's Xeon chips without having to resort to bargain basement pricing. And that might have been worth further delays to Barcelona, even though Intel is getting ready to launch its second-generation quad-core Penryn chip before Thanksgiving.