Friday, May 2, 2008

AMD: Next-Generation Microprocessors’ Will Solve Problems that Cannot Be Addressed with Hardware

Advanced Micro Devices has been struggling to deliver higher-performance quad-core central processing units for months to address the market of enthusiasts, unfortunately, without much luck. But things may be more complicated than one may imagine and the chipmaker will continue to have hard times with higher-performance chips until the new code-named Bulldozer micro-architecture arrives.

AMD’s Athlon 64 and Opteron processors substantially reshaped the markets of desktop, server and workstation chips thanks to serious performance advantage over competing solutions from Intel, however, the new-generation code-named K10 central processing units (CPUs) can hardly leave Intel’s chips behind in terms of performance, but consume considerably more power. Apparently, AMD has problems with the design of its quad-core AMD Phenom and AMD Opteron processors that cannot be cured easily enough by tweaking the current hardware based on the current micro-architecture.

“If I look at the next-generation architecture of our CPU, then it will definitely not be, how can I say, comparable with the Phenom. It will look completely different. [It will] solve problems that today we think can never be addressed by hardware,” said Giuseppe Amato, technical director of sales and marketing for EMEA region at AMD in an interview with Custom PC web-site.

AMD admitted in the past that it had issues with “wedding” the chip design with process technology, but denied the fact that it had issues with the micro-architecture or its current implementation when it comes to volume production. However, judging by the fact that the company still cannot deliver quad-core microprocessors clocked at 2.60GHz or higher, it has issues with volume manufacturing of higher-end K10 generation chips. If Mr. Amato’s comments touch upon the problems of higher-end chips’ volume ramp, then it will be pretty hard for AMD to compete against Intel for higher-end CPU market.

Bulldozer is the next-generation micro-architecture and processor design developed from the ground up by AMD. It is expected that the next-generation micro-processors will offer considerably higher performance than current-generation chips. AMD Bulldozer CPUs will feature SSE5 instruction set. The first Bulldozer processors are projected to emerge on the market in very late 2009 at the earliest or early 2011 at the latest.

Cray Set to Adopt Microprocessors from Intel in Forthcoming Supercomputers

Cray, a long time supporter of Advanced Micro Devices’ Opteron microprocessor, on Monday announced that it would use Intel Corp.’s microprocessors for certain upcoming supercomputers. The announcement will allow Cray to rely on more suppliers of x86 microprocessors and not to suffer from potential delays of future AMD Opteron introductions.

“We’re excited at the potential of bringing together Intel’s powerful silicon expertise and Cray's industry leadership in scalable HPC systems. We pride ourselves in offering the most innovative supercomputing systems and our customers will now enjoy greater choice in processor technologies,” said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray.

Cray and Intel signed a multi-year agreement to advance high-performance computing (HPC) on Intel microprocessors while delivering broad new Intel and Cray technologies in future Cray server systems. The two companies plan to explore future supercomputer component designs such as multi-core processing and advanced interconnects. As a result of this collaboration, Cray and Intel plan to develop a range of HPC systems and technologies over the next several years.

Up to now Cray relied on proprietary microprocessors as well as central processing units (CPUs) from Advanced Micro Devices, which very well suite for high-performance computing environments. However, due to AMD’s inability to ship quad-core AMD Opteron processors to Cray on time, the company did not earn revenues it expected to, ending 2007 with $186.2 million in revenue, considerably lower than $230 million the company anticipated in mid-2007. As a result, the collaboration of Cray with Intel, the arch-rival of AMD, is completely logical especially months ahead of Intel’s introduction of the new CPU micro-architecture and platform architecture.

“This collaboration provides the HPC market segment with access to the best microprocessors the industry has to offer at any point in time, in the most advanced supercomputers in the world. This further strengthens Cray's industry-leading adaptive supercomputing vision as we move into the Cascade timeframe and beyond,” Mr. Ungaro added.

Demand for Intel Atom Processors Exceeds Expectations

Even though Intel Atom processors are small and inexpensive to manufacture, quick ramp of the chips using 45nm process technology is a hard task for Intel Corp. since there are orders Intel did not expect to arrive this early. As a result, according to a large maker of notebooks and components, short supply of Intel Atom will last into Q3 2008.

“We are working closely with our customers to meet their needs. We’re just seeing better-than-anticipated demand,” said Bill Calder, a spokesman for Intel Corp., in an interview with Bloomberg news agency.

Intel Atom processors – which are designed for designed mobile, small form-factor devices, affordable and embedded applications – are based on Intel Core 2 micro-architecture, but are tailored for mobile operation and manufacturing cost-efficiency, e.g., they do not feature large caches and do not sport certain peculiarities. Initially there will be five Intel Atom processors available.

Initial breed of devices powered by Intel Atom central processing units (CPUs) will be based on Centrino Atom platform for ultra mobile systems, which features Intel Atom chip as well as Intel system controller hub (SCH) that has integrated graphics core, supports peripheral buses as well as input-output capabilities. The first-generation Intel SCH called Intel US15 has built-in graphics engine that supports 3D as well as hardware accelerated 720p and 1080i high-definition video decode capabilities. In addition, the chip supports PCI Express, USB and Secure Digital I/O bus.

Intel Atom processors, just like the latest Intel Core 2 and Intel Xeon chips, are produced using 45nm process technology. At present Intel has two 300mm fabs that produce chips using 45nm process technology – D1D in Hillsboro, Oregon, and Fab 32 in Chandler, Arizona. Given that Intel has a plan to aggressively ramp up production of new desktop processors using new process technology, a slight mistake in demand prediction automatically means shortages of Intel Atom chips, which hardly received the first priority from Intel. Two additional 45nm, 300mm manufacturing factories are scheduled to open this year in Kiryat Gat, Israel (Fab 28) and Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Fab 11x), which will let Intel to manufacture sufficient amount of Atom, Core 2 and Xeon processors.

Asustek Computer, which plans to release its Intel Atom-based Eee PC sometime in June, said that thanks to strategy to use Intel Celeron M and Intel Atom processors in mid-year the company would not suffer of Atom shortages that is projected to last for months.

“We will see a severe shortage in Atom processors that will last well into the third quarter. […] But this shortage is good for us because we have two CPU platforms to respond to demand,” said Jerry Shen, chief executive officer at Asustek Computer, Financial Times reports.

Apple’s Acquisition of PA Semi Will Not Affect Company’s Products in Years – Research Firm

Even though Apple will gain a 64-bit PowerPC core and system-on-chip architecture as a result of its acquisition of PA Semi, its plans for the technology remain unclear. Analysts from Gartner market research company believe that Apple is likely to stick with Intel’s x86 architecture for several years and PowerPC architecture will have to wait some time before deployment, if Apple plans to re-deploy it at all.

So far the most notable achievement of PA Semi has been dual-core PA6T-1682M PWRficient processor with dual-channel DDR2 memory controller and 2MB level-two cache made using 65nm process technology based on the Power architecture. The chip consumes only 5W – 13W – 25W while running at 2GHz. Performance of the central processing unit is not known, but it was embraced by telecommunication, networking and wireless companies. Besides, it is rumoured that Apple was in talks with PA Semi regarding usage of its chips inside Macs.

Gartner believes that Apple could easily implement the PowerPC architecture in future products, but it will probably take several years to introduce the appropriate designs since current products by PA Semi will hardly satisfy the company’s clients in terms of performance, whereas development of highly-integrated system-on-chip (SoC) implementations may take up to several years, the market research firm believes. Apple will need to re-architect PA Semi’s products by “rebalancing the I/O and adding a graphics controller, creating low-cost, low-power chips” that enable new features and price points for wireless devices.

It should be noted SoC designs tend to reduce absolute performance in favor of features, form-factor and cost. Therefore, Gartner expects Apple to stick with the x86 architecture for its mainstream notebook and desktop products in the near future. It is possible that Apple will move its iPhone to Intel’s Atom processor first, and then move it to an Apple processor with a PowerPC core. The company could do this because its careful control of the iPhone platform makes architecture switches manageable.

This acquisition underscores the future proliferation of Internet-connected devices beyond the PC, the research firm noted. Gartner sees these possible segments in which Apple could use PA Semi’s technologies: small and very-low-cost notebooks, iPhone devices and other media devices. It should be kept in mind that these segments align with Intel’s Atom strategy (in light of the fact that next-year Intel plans to incorporate graphics core into Atom chips) as well, which may be a signal for Intel to boost capabilities of Atom and tailor it for Apple’s devices.

Microsoft Cuts Xbox 360 Prices in Four Asian Markets

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday reduced pricing of its Xbox 360 video game console on several Asian markets. The company said in a statement that it decided to let broader audience of people to get its latest game system.

The price of the Xbox 360 Premium version with a 20GB hard disk drive was cut nearly 20% in Singapore, 17% in Taiwan, nearly 11% in Hong Kong, and 5% in South Korea, Reuters news-agency reports. The prices of the Xbox 360 Arcade and Xbox 360 Elite were lowered too. For example, Xbox 360 Arcade, Premium and Elite game consoles now cost S$399 ($294, €188), S$499 ($367, €235) and S$699 ($515, €329) in Singapore, respectively, down 13% or 20%, depending on the version..

“This price drop is part of Microsoft’s ongoing strategy to bring high-definition gaming and entertainment to an even wider audience, with great experiences for everyone,” a statement by Microsoft reads.

Earlier this year – in February and March – the world’s largest developer of software lowered pricing of its Xbox 360 game console in Japan and Europe in order to better compete against Nintendo’s Wii and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.’s PlayStation 3. Given that in Asia gamers prefer different titles than in the U.S., it is logical for Microsoft to make its latest game system more affordable so that to keep sales on current levels.

Microsoft Xbox 360 console is based around triple-core microprocessor developed by IBM, high-definition visual processing unit designed by ATI Technologies, I/O controller engineered by SiS and some other key components. The gaming machine provides a broad set of multimedia capabilities in addition to games. Currently Microsoft Xbox 360 is available for $279, $349 or $449 in the USA depending on the version.

Apple Speeds Up iMac All-in-One Desktops

Apple this week upgraded its iMac all-in-one desktop computers with new microprocessors as well as graphics accelerators. The upgrades do not bring dramatic performance increases, but puts iMac systems’ hardware more inline with today’s needs.

The new breed of Apple iMac computers features the same design as the previous-generation as well as the same 20” or 24” wide-screen displays. The most important change to the iMac systems are new Intel Core 2 Duo processors with 6MB of L2 cache and 1066MHz processor system bus (PSB) made using 45nm process technology and available with 2.40GHz, 2.66GHz, 2.80GHz and 3.06GHz clock-speeds.

It is interesting to note that Intel Core 2 Duo 3.06GHz processor – which is available as a build-to-order option for Apple iMac – was created by Intel specifically for Apple since modern chips made using 45nm process technology operating at 2.66GHz and higher clock-speeds utilize 1333MHz bus, whereas mobile Core 2 Duo processors with 1066MHz PSB are not yet unveiled.

In addition, the new iMac machines feature 1GB or 2GB of PC2-6400 (800MHz) memory, 250GB or 320GB hard disk drive with 7200rpm motor, slot-load DVD burner, ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT or ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics card as well as other key components. The new Apple iMacs are equipped with modernized Apple Keyboard, Mighty Mouse and infrared Apple Remote. As previously, the new iMac systems feature wireless networking, built-in web-cam and so on.

Important build-to-order options for the new Apple iMac are Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS 512MB graphics card (which may also be a custom-made design since typical 8800 GS models have 384MB of memory), 750GB or 1TB hard drives, 4GB of DDR2 memory and so on.

The default configuration 20” iMac with 2.40GHz chip costs $1199, whereas the model with 2.66GHz processor features suggested retail price of $1499. The 24” iMac model starts at $1799.

AMD Warns about Compatibility Issues Between Latest Processors and Entry-Level Platforms

Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday confirmed media reports that its latest AMD Phenom microprocessors that have high power consumption may not operate properly on mainboards featuring the company’s latest core-logic with built-in graphics cores. The company said that chips with high thermal design power are not designed to run inside entry level systems and otherwise, the latter are not meant to support the former.

The recently released quad-core AMD Phenom X4 9750 and 9850 central processing units (CPUs) that operate at 2.40GHz and 2.50MHz, respectively, have thermal design power (TDP) of 125W, which is too high power consumption for certain mainboards based on AMD 780G core-logic, which were designed for chips with maximum TDP of about 100W.

“What people have done, mistakenly, is paired an AMD 780G chipset-based motherboard with the higher frequency Phenom, the 125W Phenom. They’ve taken an enthusiast-class quad-core part and paired it with a mainstream motherboard. Not all motherboard manufacturers have tweaked their boards to support a 125W TDP,” said Jake Whitman, an AMD spokesperson, in an interview with Cnet News.com web-site.

AMD 780G core-logic is AMD’s latest chipset that contains built-in integrated DirectX 10-compliant graphics core. Usually mainboards powered by such core-logic sets power entry-level systems that are not usually equipped with higher-end microprocessors. As a result, mainboard makers try to save on CPU power supply circuitry which results in reduced compatibility with certain high-end chips. However, not all AMD 780G-based mainboards are incompatible with higher-end quad-core AMD Phenom CPUs.

Unfortunately, AMD Phenom X4 9750 and 9850 microprocessors are not exactly expensive and aimed at enthusiasts: they only cost $215 and $265, respectively, in 1000-unit quantities. Such price points are usually considered mainstream, not high-end or enthusiast, therefore, quite some people may decide to acquire such a chip along with a platform that features integrated graphics.

Since the vast majority of buyers get their systems from system builders, the latter may simply not offer power-hungry AMD Phenom processors along with more or less simplistic platforms, which not only reduces choice for end-users, but also undermines AMD’s ability to sell more expensive chips. At present Gateway and HP only offer systems with AMD Phenom processors clocked at 2.30GHz or below.

Asustek Computer Plans to Spin-Off Eee PC Brand-Name - Rumours

Asustek Computer, a leading maker of mainboards and other computer components, is rumoured to be considering spinning off its Eee brand into a separate company or business unit in order to be able to address higher-end market segment with its products that are sold under Eee trademark.

Asustek has historically sold rather expensive computer components and notebooks under its Asus brand-name, which allowed the Taiwan-based company to quickly increase its revenue and profits. Last year the company introduced its first Asus Eee PC 701 system that is currently considered as a low-end of Asus lineup. Earlier this year the company outlined plans to offer a range of Eee products, including a desktop, an all-in-one desktop and even an HDTV. However, since Eee PC is primarily a brand for Asus entry-level devices, it will be hard to sell the range of Eee products on general markets.

In order to broaden horizons for Eee-devices and Asustek Computer itself, the manufacturer plans to separate the Eee brand and make it independent, reports DigiTimes web-site citing market rumours.

For Asustek Computer it is not something new to separate business units into standalone companies. Back in 2002 the company spun-off Asrock company that is currently well-known on the market of entry-level mainboards, whereas in early 2008 the company spun-off Pegatron Technologies and Unihan Technologies, which produce various components and peripherals for third-party vendors on contract basis.

Separation of Eee will allow the latter to quickly grow its product lineup without fear to compete against Asustek Computer itself or its partners among system integrators who buy mainboards or other components from the company. In addition, the spin-off will allow Eee to target higher-end market segments with faster and higher quality hardware. For example, certain market rumours indicate that there are Eee notebooks with 10” and 11” screens in the works.

Unfortunately, Eee brand-name is still not as well known as Asus trademark and the new company will have to advertise it heavily before general public becomes familiar with it.

IBM and Spansion Ink Patent Cross-Licensing Agreement

Spansion and IBM on Monday announced that they had entered into a seven-year patent cross licensing agreement. The agreement involves patents on IBM’s recently announced “racetrack” memory technology, however, no actual plans regarding any concrete products by Spansion were released.

Recently IBM announced a next generation technology code-named Racetrack, which is an electronic memory solution that combines the best attributes of Flash drives and the hard disk drives. The breakthrough could lead to cheaper, more durable electronic devices that would hold far more data in the same amount of space and boot up more quickly.

Included in Spansion’s patent portfolio are patents relating to its MirrorBit technology, a charge-trapping technology that is believed by Spansion to be the most likely successor to floating gate technology for scaling Flash memory to sub-45nm process lithography nodes. Spansion is the only company in the world to have committed all leading-edge Flash memory production to charge-trapping technology, and sales of products based on MirrorBit technology are on-track to reach $2 billion in 2008. Spansion believes its investment in MirrorBit technology gives it a strong charge-trapping patent portfolio in process, design and manufacturing technologies.

Spansion and IBM will also partner on the continued development of Flash memory solutions for the Chinese market. Spansion has been committed to working with the top consumer electronics OEMs and wireless handset manufacturers in the Greater China region, where it boasts a final manufacturing facility in Suzhou, design centers in Suzhou and Beijing and sales and marketing offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, employing over 1300 employees in those locations.

“We are greatly impressed with IBM’s relentless commitment to invest in disruptive technology, as well as the breadth and depth of their patent portfolio. We believe entering into this patent cross license agreement with IBM gives us access to some of the most advanced technology in the world, providing Spansion the opportunity to further its leadership in Flash memory design, manufacturing and overall innovation,” said Dr. Louis Parrillo, executive vice president of Research and Development for Spansion.

AMD Introduces “Business Class” Platforms for Desktops, Notebooks

Advanced Micro Devices, the world’s second biggest supplier of x86 microprocessors, on Monday unveiled its first platform initiative aimed at commercial desktop and notebook computers. AMD’s Business Class initiative may help AMD to sell more microprocessors, chipsets and graphics cards in the market of commercial desktops.

At present AMD only discloses details regarding its commercial desktop platform solution. The platform includes a new lineup of processors with up to 24-month stability and longevity from initial product availability. These commercial stable processors include triple-core AMD Phenom X3 and quad-core AMD Phenom X4 processors, as well as AMD Athlon X2 dual-core processors. Large system integrators can choose AMD 780V chipsets or optional ATI Radeon HD 3000-series discrete graphics, and the platform also supports non-AMD graphics and chipsets.

Pricing for the new AMD Business Class processors in 1000-unit quantities include the AMD Phenom X4 9600B processor for $230, the AMD Phenom X3 8600B processor for $175, AMD Athlon X2 5400B and 5200B processors for $120 and $110 respectively, AMD Athlon X2 5000B and 4450B processors for $95 and $85 respectively, and the AMD Athlon 1640B processor for $50.

Dell and HP, the largest makers of personal computers on the planet, said they are committed to AMD’s Business Class initiative.

Commercial notebooks for AMD Business Class are scheduled to be available based on the upcoming next-generation notebook platform, codenamed “Puma”, with competitive productivity and battery life at multiple price points, AMD said.

“IT decision-makers have a broad range of commercial client solutions to choose from and it is not always clear which systems deliver the best business value. At its heart, AMD Business Class processors are based on the same innovative technology that powers the world’s most advanced servers. Our solutions are designed to give commercial customers the assurance that platforms are designed with their business in mind to help get more from their computing infrastructure, longer,” said Dirk Meyer, president and chief operating officer at AMD.

AMD Business Class platforms offer future-ready solutions with the features and interoperability businesses need. AMD supports choice in the marketplace and is committed to open security standards (TCG – Trusted Computing Group) and management standards (DMTF – the Distributed Management Task Force) that support today’s increasingly diverse IT environments rather than locking businesses into expensive, proprietary technology. AMD is actively involved in defining and evolving the DMTF’s Desktop and mobile Architecture for System Hardware (DASH) suite of specifications that are designed to deliver standards-based Web services management for desktop and mobile client systems.