September 9, 2007 9:00 PM PDT
AMD's Barcelona not a savior, yet
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This will give customers a better sense of how they should plan for the power consumed by Opteron servers, Shaw said. AMD still plans to publish TDP ratings that are important to server designers, but will direct customers to the ACP figure, which has the added bonus of being significantly lower than TDP.
AMD says it won't use the ACP number to compare the power consumption of its processors against Intel's. AMD is publishing the methodology behind the ACP metric, but Shaw said the company won't rate Intel's processors by using the metric for comparison purposes. Still, it is touting average CPU power of 55 watts for the energy-efficient Barcelona models and 75 watts for the standard models, which could confuse some customers for investors used to TDP comparisons.
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Power consumption marketing is the new battleground for Intel and AMD, and it can be a minefield when trying to make a purchase decision, given the different implementations each company uses. But AMD does appear to have some advantages over Intel in pure energy efficiency, according to independent tests by Neal Nelson and Associates and demonstrations performed by AMD during its most recent analyst day, which could help it gain traction in the growing blade-server market.
That's good, because marketing its chips on pure performance is no longer a possibility for AMD. After years of touting the superior performance of its dual-core Opteron chips against Intel's dual-core Xeon processors, AMD's clear advantage ended with the launch of Intel's Core microarchitecture processors in June last year. Although Opteron still does well against Xeon on certain workloads that demand excellent floating-point performance or memory bandwidth, it's no longer the undisputed winner that it once was.
And it doesn't appear that Barcelona leapfrogs Intel's current quad-core chips to the degree predicted by Allen in January. The quad-core Opteron outdoes Intel by 35 percent on the SPECfp_rate2006 benchmark, a test of floating-point performance administered by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) that's long been an Opteron strongpoint and is generally a metric eyed by those with high-performance computing needs, such as labs and research institutions.
But AMD didn't provide specific numbers for SPECint_rate, a measure of integer-processing speed that relates more directly than SPECfp_rate to business-computing tasks such as e-mail or database transactions. However, according to published scores and AMD's performance estimates, Barcelona appears to trail Intel's current Xeon chips by a significant margin. AMD said the two-socket edition of Barcelona would be 55 percent faster on SPECint_rate2006 than its current dual-core Opteron chips, which received a score of 56.8. That would put Barcelona at around 88, much slower than the published results for Intel's two-socket quad-core Xeon chips running at 3GHz, which received a score of 116.
AMD uses an old benchmark, SPECompM2001 base, in another comparison. The other benchmarks touted by AMD will delight high-performance computing customers but aren't as relevant for the corporate market. The new Opteron does well on the Fluent and LSDYNA benchmarks that emphasize floating-point performance and memory bandwith.
Those aren't the types of applications that crop up more often for most business customers, and AMD doesn't cite any application-specific benchmarks that crop up more frequently, such as tests of Java performance database-driven financial software from SAP.
One strong suit that AMD can point to is virtualization technology, which is becoming increasingly important to server customers. The performance of VMware's software will be 79 percent better on AMD's quad-core Opteron compared with the previous generation, according to AMD. The company built several hooks into Barcelona that were designed to improve virtualization performance.
But it appears that Barcelona is far from the smash hit that AMD once hoped it had with its "native" quad-core design. And Intel has new quad-core chips in the offing around mid-November, with a dramatic overhaul expected next year to mimic many of AMD's design features that made Opteron a winner in the past.
AMD's best hope is to get Barcelona's clock speeds up to higher levels as quickly as possible, which could unlock the advantages of putting all the cores on the same processor die. One disadvantage of Intel's implementation is that signals have to leave one dual-core chip to visit the other, and that takes time.
Barcelona is expected to be available in servers from two of AMD's server partners on Monday, and in a few weeks from the others. It likely won't add too much revenue to AMD's coffers until the fourth quarter, meaning the company could be in for another rough patch until Barcelona reaches a wider portion of the market.
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.
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