Saturday, February 16, 2008

AMD Denies Any Problems with “Puma” as Analyst Predicts Issues with AMD’s Next-Generation Mobile Platform

The launch of quad-core microprocessors by Advanced Micro Devices was not an easy one, but there could be more thorns on the path to the stars: an analyst believes that AMD’s next-generation mobile platform code-named Puma will also have certain problems with its launch. But AMD is sure: nothing negative will happen as Puma has no design flaws AMD is aware of.

AMD’s Puma mobile platform will be based on AMD’s code-named Griffin processor, AMD M780 or AMD M780G mobile chipsets, which support PCI Express 2.0 bus, HyperTransport 3.0 bus, flash-cache for boosting hard drive performance and comes with or without built-in DirectX 10-compliant ATI Radeon graphics core that also features hardware-assisted decoding of high-definition content from Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. Besides, notebooks based on the Puma platform may be equipped with ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3000-series discrete graphics processors as well as 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless network controller as well as 3G option.

“Our channel checks suggest AMD’s Puma platform for notebooks may have a technical glitch. […] We believe the mere potential for a problem with Puma, even if a fix is in the works and the platform is scheduled for an ‘on-time’ launch, will likely have an impact on initial volumes for the [refresh of the notebook product line for the spring],” Doug Freedman, an analyst with American Technology Research, wrote in a note to investors on Wednesday, according to various media reports.

Mr. Freedman did not specify what kind of problems AMD’s code-named mobile platform Puma may or may not have.

It is necessary to note that AMD’s code-named Griffin microprocessor is immune to the notorious TLB-bug with AMD Phenom chips due to the fact that Griffin central processing unit is based on the K8/K9 micro-architecture with many tweaks made to HyperTransport controller, DDR2 memory controller as well as with aggressive tuning to save as much energy as possible.

The chip will be made using proven 65nm process technology.

Officials from Advanced Micro Devices indicated that the company was “not aware” of any technical issues with Puma notebook platform, and that the new platform was on track to launch in the Q2 2008.

“We remain on track for AMD’s commitments from AMD’s financial analyst day and we are looking forward to a record number of notebook platform offerings from all key OEM customers in Q2,” AMD’s spokesperson Suzy Pruitt is reported to have said.

Warner Bros. Talks About HD DVD Releases After Mid-2008

Warner Bros., a major movie studio in Hollywood, said that it would still release its movies on HD DVD format even after May 31st, 2008, when the company is supposed to start releasing movies on Blu-ray disc (BD) and DVD only and cease making HD DVD. But Warner Bros. will only launch HD DVD if there is demand.

“There may be isolated instances that an HD DVD title will be created, but as a general rule our titles will be out in SD and BD only after May 31,” said Ronnee Sass, vice president of publicity and promotion, in an interview with DVDTown web-site.

Time Warner-owned studios, including Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, announced in early January that starting from mid-2008 they would only release high-definition movies on Blu-ray discs, a competing format for HD DVD. It is also projected that Warner Bros. will cease not only to release new titles on HD DVD, but also cease manufacturing of already available HD DVD movies. Apparently, Warner not only plans to create new HD DVD titles, but also to continue selling existing HD DVDs too.

“If there is product available in HD DVD and there is a request from a retailer, we will provide,” said Mr. Sass.

It is interesting to note that the forthcoming release of I am Legend movie from Warner Bros. will have more exclusive high-definition media (HDM) only features on Blu-ray: the BD version will also sport gallery of documentary vignettes dubbed Creating I Am Legend as well as the featurette Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend. Therefore, it is not completely clear whether newly created HD DVD titles will have as many HDM-only features as Blu-ray. Still, with over one million of HD DVD players installed in the USA only, the amount of potential customers for HD DVD titles that is hard to ignore.

It is noteworthy that Warner Bros. talks about possibility to release HD DVDs about a month after proclaiming Blu-ray exclusivity. For example, Disney has not released a single HD DVD yet, although it voted for approval of HD DVD 51GB standard; whereas 20th Century Fox does release only Blu-ray titles in the U.S., but in Europe its partners make them available on HD DVD.

Blu-ray and HD DVD formats compete for replacing the DVD standard. HD DVD discs can store up to 15GB on a single layer and up to 30GB on two layers. Its competitor, Blu-ray, can store up to 25GB per single layer and up to 50GB on two layers, but Blu-ray discs are more expensive to produce. The HD DVD is pushed aggressively by Toshiba, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, Sanyo as well as being standardized at the DVD Forum, which represents over 230 consumer electronics, information technology, and content companies worldwide. Blu-ray is backed by Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Thomson, LG, Hitachi, Sharp, Samsung, and Sony, which are among the world’s largest makers of consumer electronics.

Yahoo! Finds Microsoft’s Bid Considerably Below Its Value

Yahoo! on Monday released a statement claiming that it will not accept acquisition proposal of Microsoft Corp. because the world’s largest maker of software offered a bid substantially below the real value of the Internet company.

“After careful evaluation, the board [of directors] believes that Microsoft’s proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo! including our global brand, large worldwide audience, significant recent investments in advertising platforms and future growth prospects, free cash flow and earnings potential, as well as our substantial unconsolidated investments,” the statement by Yahoo! reads.

Microsoft proposed to acquire Yahoo! following disappointing quarter results of the latter for about $44 billion back in late January. The two companies would form a formidable giant that would operate in many industries and provide an ultimate amount of services to millions of users worldwide. However, as with every acquisition or merge, the combined company would become somewhat less competitive on certain markets.

“The board of directors is continually evaluating all of its strategic options in the context of the rapidly evolving industry environment and we remain committed to pursuing initiatives that maximize value for all stockholders,” the statement by Yahoo! claims.

Microsoft Corp. said it that it was disappointed by the decision of Yahoo! and it would continue trying to take over the company.

“It is unfortunate that Yahoo! has not embraced our full and fair proposal to combine our companies. Based on conversations with stakeholders of both companies, we are confident that moving forward promptly to consummate a transaction is in the best interests of all parties. The Yahoo! response does not change our belief in the strategic and financial merits of our proposal.

As we have said previously, Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!’s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal,” the statement reads.

Dell Reduces Offerings of AMD-Based Systems

Dell, one of the largest suppliers of personal computers, has reduced the number of AMD-based system it sells online via its web-site. While the news may be considered as a negative one for AMD, this may be a good news for smaller system builders, for whom it will be easier to get microprocessors from AMD if Dell reduces the amount of chips it gets from the globe’s No. 2 x86 microprocessor supplier.

Back on Friday it was reported by Engadget web-site that Dell had stopped selling AMD-powered machines online. Besides, the web-site also posted a screenshot from Dell’s web-site claiming that computers with AMD processors were not available online. Moreover, official representatives from the computer maker were quoted as saying that AMD-powered consumer machines were retail-only, but that business-grade machines would still be sold online.

In fact, the number of consumer PCs from Dell based on AMD processors was reduced considerably on the company’s official web-site, which may indicate that Dell is lowering the amount of models with AMD central processing units (CPUs) inside.

“Dell regularly adjusts its product offerings, and how customers can purchase those products. Currently the majority of our Inspiron AMD-based systems are available through our retail partners such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Staples, and through telephone sales. Our AMD-based energy-efficient consumer desktop, the Energy Star 4.0 Inspiron 531 is also still available on Dell.com,” said Lionel Menchaca, digital media manager at Dell.

For years Dell only produced systems based on central processors from Intel Corp., but when it finally started to produce AMD-based computers back in 2006, many of AMD’s channel partners noticed that it became harder to get sufficient amount of CPUs from Advanced Micro Devices. Many blamed Dell for “consuming” a substantial amount of AMD’s products and consequent tight supply of AMD’s chips for channel and smaller system builders.

While Dell said that it was “committed to the AMD product lines as a long-term partner” to provide the “maximum choice” for their customers, the actual reasons why the company decided to shrink the number of AMD-based models remain unclear.

Microsoft Expects “Very Long” Life Span for Xbox 360 Game Console

Microsoft Corp. launched its Xbox 360 game console only four years after it released original Xbox, but that is not going to happen in case of the latest video game system, according to a vice president of Microsoft Game Studios. Apparently, the world’s largest maker of software expects its Xbox 360 to have a very long life-cycle.

Traditionally game console developers unveil video game consoles once in about five years and utilizing latest technologies to enable dramatic improvements of experience and quality of games. However, the success of Nintendo Wii, which features outdated graphics and does not provide very simplistic features like DVD playback, may actually force Microsoft and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. to reconsider their priorities and release next-generation game consoles sooner than expected. If this happens, next-generation PlayStation and Xbox would not feature components with breakthrough features and performance, but would be substantially more consumer friendly.

“For strategic reasons, we launched the 360 four years after original… Our belief is that the Xbox 360 will have a very long life cycle. It is much different than the original Xbox,” said Microsoft studios’ corporate vice Shane Kim told New York Times reporter Seth Schiesel, reports Gamesindustry.biz web-site.

Microsoft released its Xbox 360 in November, 2005, therefore, its replacement should normally be ready by late 2010, which means that the company has to make all the design decisions this year. But by prolonging life-cycle of the Xbox 360 Microsoft shows confidence that its Xbox 360 will still be able to deliver great gaming experience even in 2010.

Ken Kutaragi, the former chief of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., said prior to the launch of the PlayStation 3 that it would have ten years lifetime.

AMD Plans to Introduce New AMD Phenom Chips in April – Source

Advanced Micro Devices has once again changed its plans regarding the launch of higher-performance AMD Phenom microprocessors. Apparently, the higher speed microprocessors will be released commercially in April, 2008, a little earlier than it was generally expected.

AMD Phenom processor models 9550 (2.20GHz), 9650 (2.30GHz) and 9750 (2.40GHz) will be released commercially about eight weeks from now, sometime in April, a source familiar with the world’s second largest x86 chipmaker’s plans said. The new chips will be based on the B3 revision of the processor and will not have any issues with Translation Lookaside Buffer. The destiny of the high-speed AMD Phenom 9950 is unclear at the moment.

After a Translation Lookaside Buffer (TLB)-related erratum was discovered in AMD Phenom microprocessors and AMD had to impose a fix that reduced performance of the CPUs, Advanced Micro Devices announced a new B3 stepping of the chip with bug corrected without performance degradation. Originally the higher-performance AMD Phenom 9700 and 9900 at 2.40GHz and 2.60GHz, respectively, were scheduled to arrive in Q1, but after a series of delays many suspected that the products slipped into late Q2 or even Q3.

Earlier this week it was reported that virtually all AMD Phenom processors based on the B3 stepping are due in May or June with AMD Phenom 9950 at 2.60GHz scheduled to arrive sometime in the third quarter.

AMD crucially needs new microprocessors with decent performance in its lineup since its aging AMD Athlon 64 X2 family of chips cannot demonstrate performance on par with Intel Corp.’s Core 2 microprocessors. Moreover, with the list of Intel Core 2 Quad central processing units with four processing engines getting longer, AMD’s ability to compete decreases since the company’s lineup of microprocessors contains only two quad-core CPUs.

Officials from AMD did not comment on the news-story.

Apple Cuts Production of Music Players, Personal Computers

Apple has reportedly reduced production of its various devices more significantly than it planned due to lowering demand towards the company’s iPod portable digital media players and the iPhone.

Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst Craig Berger said in a recent research note that “recent checks show that Apple has cut both its iPod and iPhone build plans for calendar Q1” and that the reduction of orders was not conditioned by weak seasonality, but low demand towards certain products. Apple was previously targeting a roughly 50% sequential decline in units produced, but is now targeting a 60% decline, reports Barrons.

It is not a secret that in the first months of a new year consumers are unwilling to spend a lot on electronics, but Apple usually tries to partially offset the weak seasonality by introducing new products at Macworld expo in January. This year Apple unveiled its Macbook Air notebook as well as several new services, however, it now seems that demand towards such products as iPod touch and iPhone is going down.

“Apple iPod builds have declined by nearly 1 million units in the last 3 weeks driven mostly by declines in iPod Video builds (both iTouch and Classic) leaving iPod builds down roughly 15% year over year. We estimate Apple overbuilt iPods by roughly 2 million units in the [Q4] which may help explain the large year-over-year decline. Finally, iPhone builds appear on track for roughly 1.3 million units, a data point which confirms many of the rumored production cuts floating on Wall Street last week,” analysts from Detwiler, Mitchell, Fenton, & Graves indicated.

Nevertheless, Apple iMac computers tend to be relatively popular. According to analyst Craig Barger, Apple has cut its calendar Q1 build forecast to down 50%, from down 35%, but the company has increased its forecasts for the iMac, going from flat to up 35% quarter over quarter.

“Our latest checks into Apple’s supply chain suggests continued improvements in PC builds offset by erosion in iPods and weakness in iPhone builds. […] The builds indicate that [Q1] should defy normal seasonality for Apple’s PC sales and increase meaningfully following a roughly 2.3 million unit [in Q4], analysts from Detwiler, Mitchell, Fenton, & Graves wrote.

Officials from Apple did not comment on the news-story.

IBM Touts New-Generation Cell Processors

IBM, a leading IT company and also a leading producer of chips, said at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) that its Cell processor, which was jointly developed with Sony and Toshiba, produced using 45nm process technology will not only have lower power consumption, but will be able to work on much higher frequencies. Besides, more powerful Cell chips with more cores are possible.

According to slides that IBM demonstrated at ISSCC, power consumption of Cell chip operating at 4GHz produced using 45nm fabrication technology is 42% below the same chip made using 65nm process tech. Moreover, the 45nm chip consumes just about one third of the energy devoured by Cell 4GHz produced using 90nm fabrication process, reports PC Watch web-site.

Perhaps, more notably, but Cell processor made at 45nm will be able to operate at 6GHz – 7GHz clock-speed, which will boost performance considerably compared to today’s available frequencies.

The Cell microprocessor incorporates one dual-threaded PowerPC core and eight so-called synergistic processing engines (SPEs) intended for floating-point calculations, the most demanding tasks in entertainment, workstation and server systems. The PowerPC core is projected to have 32KB L1 cache and 512KB L2 cache, while each of the SPEs will have 256KB of cache. The Cell has built-in Rambus XDR memory interface, capable of data rates from 3.20GHz to 8.0GHz. The chip also uses FlexIO processor buses that are capable of running at up to 6.40GHz.

Earlier IBM said that with 45nm process technology it will be possible to create a more powerful Cell processor with two Power processor elements along with thirty two synergetic processor elements.

Besides ability to create a microprocessor with breakthrough performance, IBM and its partner Toshiba are now able to create much less expensive Cell processors using 45nm fabrication process. Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation 3 will be the first device to benefit from more affordable Cell processor. But if 45nm Cell chips are truly affordable, then other companies may also decide to use Cell chips inside their consumer electronics or computing devices.

Unfortunately, IBM did not provide any information regarding yields of Cell processors produced using 45nm technology. Earlier IBM’s vice president of semiconductor and technology services said during an interview that with big chips like the Cell processor, jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, 10% – 20% yields are normal and the chipmakers should be lucky enough to get such output of fully functional chips. While the chip at 45nm should be much smaller compared to 90nm or 65nm versions and its yields are by definition higher, it would still be interesting to see the actual information about the percentage of working chips out of all produced.

Cell processors made using 45nm process technology will be commercially available in future; no actual timeframes were disclosed.