Thursday, April 24, 2008

AMD’s Next-Gen Micro-Architecture in Development, Bulldozer Samples Due in 2009 – AMD

A lot of mystery surrounds roadmaps of technology companies due to their constant intention to find the rivals completely unaware of the plans. But if competitors usually are alert about the plans of each other thanks to espionage, the analysts and market observers have hard times understanding plans of companies like Advanced Micro Devices.

At the most recent conference call with financial analysts AMD’s president and chief operating officer Dirk Meyer said that the next-generation micro-architecture and processors on its base code-named Bulldozer were in development with first samples due in 2009. What Mr. Meyer did not say is when the final central processing units (CPUs) were scheduled to arrive, a piece of information that both analysts and investors are curious to know.

“The Bulldozer core is in development in 45nm [process] technology and we will be sampling that in 2009,” Mr. Meyer told the audience.

Any transition to a new-generation micro-architecture and processor design is closely tied to transition to a new process technology. Chipmakers want to improve fabrication technology as much as possible before starting to make brand-new CPUs, therefore, manufacturing technology conversion happens before transition to new chip designs.

The same applies to 45nm manufacturing process and Bulldozer processors. It was originally expected that AMD will be in position to start volume production using 45nm process technology by mid-2008, but the company is going to ship 45nm CPUs in volume only in Q4 2008. But will it affect the Bulldozer lineup. It may, or may not.

Based on track record of AMD’s transitions to new to new process technologies and micro-architectures in the last six years (see table below), the following can be noticed:

* It takes AMD from 3 to 6 quarters from commercial introduction of process technology to introduction of a radically new chip design based on this technology.
* It takes AMD from 4 to 5 quarters to shrink/improve a bit a CPU using a new process technology from the initial introduction of the chip.
* AMD’s K7 lived for 4 years, AMD’s K8 lived for 4 years, but was meant to live for 3.5 years.

Considering AMD’s recent history, if AMD succeeds in initiating volume shipments of 45nm processors code-named Shanghai, Deneb and others in Q4 2008, the Bulldozer has some chances to be unveiled in late 2009 (if it takes 3 to 4 quarters to make it after AMD initializes 45nm shipments on time), but that is not likely, as in that case K10 will live for only 1.5 years. In a little worse case scenario, the chip will be released in Q1 2010 or Q2 2010 (if it takes AMD 5 to 6 quarters to create Bulldozer after 45nm intro), inline with previous transition histories. However, it Bulldozer does not fit into typical pattern of AMD CPU introduction from the production technology point of view, the chip may be unleashed only in late 2010 or even 2011, which is inline with micro-architecture transition plans.

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