Friday, May 9, 2008

Advanced Micro Devices Updates Server Roadmap

Advanced Micro Devices this week unveiled changes it had made to its server microprocessor roadmap. The shifts in the roadmap appear to be quite significant since the company cancelled its octa-core microprocessor, delayed introduction of the third-generation AMD Opteron server platform, but introduced six-core and twelve-core microprocessors based on K10 micro-architecture and due in 2009 and 2010.

“Based on input from our OEM partners, AMD is updating its server roadmap to strengthen its alignment with end-customer priorities. Today’s roadmap updates support AMD’s long-standing goal of meeting our OEM partners’ demands for platform longevity while driving increased performance-per-watt and more advanced virtualization features and functionality,” said Randy Allen, corporate vice president of server and workstation division at AMD.

The world’s second largest provider of x86 microprocessors reaffirmed that AMD Opteron processor code-named Shanghai is “on schedule to begin production in the second half of 2008”. The chip will have four processing engines, 2MB of L2 cache (512KB per core) as well as 6MB of unified L3 cache; in addition, the processor will include “core and instruction-per-clock” enhancements.

Instead of octa-core AMD Opteron processor code-named Montreal and third-generation server platform in the second half of 2009, the chipmaker decided to introduce six-core code-named Istanbul processor with 6MB L3 cache and continue to use second-generation socket F (1207) platform. This allows makers of current-generation servers to install higher-performance chips into existing machine and increase their performance-per-watt without any substantial investments into development.

In the first half of 2010 Advanced Micro Devices will bring six-core Sao Paulo with 6MB L3 cache and twelve-core Magny-Cours with 12MB L3 cache processors that will have DDR3 memory controller and will utilize third-generation AMD Opteron platform with socket G34 code-named Maranello that will feature AMD’s own-developed 890-series chipsets. The new processors will be made using 45nm process technology.

The roadmap change of AMD indicates that the company is trying to ensure that it can deliver products on time, which is why octa-core processor due in 2009 was cancelled in favour of more simplistic six-core chip. Besides, AMD decided not to push its next-generation Bulldozer micro-architecture into server segment in the first half of 2010, but plans to develop multi-core processors based on the K10 micro-architecture.

Intel, NASA and SGI Plan to Build 1PetaFlops Supercomputer by 2009

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Intel Corp., and SGI on Thursday announced the signing of an agreement establishing intentions to collaborate on significantly increasing the space agency’s supercomputer performance and capacity. Under the terms of a “Space Act Agreement”, Intel and SGI will build a supercomputer with performance capacity that is two times higher compared to the fastest supercomputer today.

“Achieving such a monumental increase in performance will help fulfill NASA’s increasing need for additional computing capacity and will enable us to provide the computational performance and capacity needed for future missions. This additional computational performance is necessary to help us achieve breakthrough scientific discoveries,” said Ames Director S. Pete Worden.

The new supercomputer will be built in NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. NASA Ames, Intel and SGI will work together on a project called Pleiades to develop a computational system with a capacity of one Petaflops peak performance (1000 trillion operations per second) by 2009 and a system with a peak performance of 10Petaflops (10 000 trillion operations per second) by 2012. By comparison, today’s highest-performing IBM BlueGene supercomputer in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has peak performance of 478 200GFlops, or more than two times lower compared to projected performance of the system for NASA Ames.

This collaboration builds on the 2004 deployment of Columbia, which generated a tenfold increase in supercomputing capacity for the agency. Meeting NASA’s future mission challenges will require additional computational resources to handle increasingly higher fidelity modeling and simulation. In 2009, NASA expects to increase that computing capability 16 times with the Pleiades project, and by an additional tenfold in 2012.

Toshiba Plans to Equip Multimedia Laptops with SpursEngine Processor

Toshiba plans to equip some of its multimedia-oriented mobile computers with its multimedia processor that can accelerate various applications, including graphics, physics, video and so on. Toshiba did not disclose how much its customers should pay for the part.

On the 8th of May Toshiba disclosed its growth strategies for investors for the year 2008, one of which was integration of the SpursEngine processor into advanced media center AV Qosmio notebooks. According to Toshiba, the Cell-derivative processor will upscale standard picture quality to high definition resolution. While the manufacturer did not disclose into details, it claimed that the notebook would be available in 2008.

It will depend on software support whether special-purpose accelerator from Toshiba brings any benefits, but recently the company announced that its chip is supported by such software companies as Corel and Cyberlink.

SpursEngine is a co-processor that integrates four of Cell high-performance RISC core SPEs, half the number of the full configuration, hardware dedicated to decoding and encoding of MPEG-2 and H.264 video, XDR memory interface as well as PCI Express interface. By combining the high level, real time processing software of the SPEs with the hardware video codecs, the SpursEngine realizes an optimized balance of processing flexibility and low power consumption. The prototype of SpursEngine operates at a clock frequency of 1.5GHz and consumes power at 10W to 20W.

The SpursEngine SE1000 reference board is compliant with PCI Express 1.1 x1 and x4 slots, sports 128MB of 1.6GHz XDR memory and carries SpursEngine processor at unknown clock-speed.

Toshiba’s SpursEngine processor may be used for various products and in various markets. In the computer industry the SpursEngine may be used for video processing, graphics computations, physics computations and various other applications that involve processing of data streams. Potentially, video professionals may find useful to decode or encode four full-HD (1920x1080 with progressive scan, 1080p) streams at once. In the consumer space currently only two full-HD video decoders are required to provide picture-in-picture functionality on Blu-ray and HD DVD players, however, as high-definition television becomes more popular and more channels are broadcasted digitally, four-way video processing may become a necessary feature for advanced HDTVs.

AMD: Financial Performance Should Not Depend on Products Performance

Despite of expectations, Advanced Micro Devices did not unveil any details regarding its “asset-smart” strategy or any concrete decisions that influence the future of the company at its annual meeting with shareholders. What the company indicated was that it wants to be profitable with current revenue level and that it plans to focus strictly on core businesses.

“The year 2007 was difficult transition year for AMD. I could not be more disappointed with our financial results. […]We will return to profitability. We are committed for sustainable profitability,” said Hector Ruiz, chairman of the board and chief executive officer at AMD.

Mr. Ruiz stressed that the management is currently re-organizing the company “so that to be profitable at our current revenue stream”. The issue that AMD ran into in the last two years was that its microprocessors and graphics processors cannot demonstrate performance as high as that of competing solutions, which eroded the company’s profit margins and forced to focus on lowering prices. But even with inexpensive products the company should be profitable, said the chief executive.

“While the short-term goal is to achieve operational profitability in the second half of this year, our long-term goal is to achieve consistent profitability in good times and bad times. We are re-architecting the business so that our financial success is not invariably dependent on continuous component performance leadership over our rich and dominant competitor,” said the head of AMD.

Unfortunately, nothing new was said about AMD’s “asset smart” strategy.

“We are progressing with our ‘asset-smart’ strategy [under which] we will deploy our manufacturing assets [in the most] cost-effective [way], but stay on the leading edge and deliver customer value,” said Mr. Ruiz and promised to reveal more details regarding “asset smart” in future.

According to CEO of AMD, the company plans to get rid of certain non-core businesses in case they do not bring profits. Regrettably, no businesses were named.

“We plan to make fewer things better. We are constantly scrutinizing our non-core businesses and revisiting their strategic fit in the company,” said Mr. Ruiz, adding that the company would exit businesses that do not bring profits to AMD, but stressed that central processing units and graphics processing units are the businesses that are the most important for the company.

Right after AMD acquired ATI Technologies, market share of the latter began to shrink and achieved its lowest point in many years – 18.3% – in Q4 2007. But Mr. Ruiz said that the future looks bright for next-generation ATI Radeon graphics chips and ATI will regain its positions on the market.

“The next-generation ATI Radeon graphics looks impressive. We believe in our potential for market share gain this quarter and beyond,” promised the chief executive of AMD.

Blu-Ray Disc Players Need Lower Prices – Walt Disney

The cost of Blu-ray disc players has to go down so that producers of content would feel impact of increasing sales of high definition media, said chief executive of Walt Disney Company, a strong backer of the Blu-ray format, during a conference call with financial analysts. The claim further underlines the necessity of reducing pricing of Blu-ray to get higher market penetration.

“The penetration of Blu-Ray players is still relatively modest and while we have got some titles out there, the real impact from Blu-Ray will be felt down the road. In fact, we have got some exciting titles coming up. […] And we see penetration growing nicely, particularly as the cost of the players comes down. You willl be seeing a lot more $300 and [lower priced playes] on the shelves,” said Robert Iger, chief executive of Walt Disney Company during a conference call with financial analysts.

Even though there are over 35 million high definition TV-sets in the USA, according to some estimates, there are still very few high-definition digital video disc players sold, about 2 million, but maybe less. The reason for such low penetration of the players themselves as well as content, according to analysts, is cost of Blu-ray disc players that begins at $300 and may easily end rising at $1000.

“We are believers because of the quality of the experience but it is going to take some time for the platform to penetrate the marketplace,” Mr. Iger admitted.

According to ABI Research market tracker, it would be 12 to 18 months before the market of Blu-ray hardware (and, consequently, movies) kicks into gear. The firm said that consumer electronics manufacturers have to introduce full-featured players – which support both picture-in-picture (Bonus view) functionality as well as Internet connectivity (BD Live!) and then get prices down to the $200 level. The current situation in the U.S. economy may also slowdown adoption of Blu-ray disc format.

“I think for perspective, for a new release important title right now, you can easily see mid- to high-single digit percentages of the units be Blu-Ray. Overall, total units are going to be probably more in the low single digit range because less Blu-Ray on catalog sales right now,” further explained Thomas Staggs, chief financial officer at Walt Disney Company.

id Software Announces Development of Doom 4 Video Game

id Software, the developer of such video games as Doom and Quake as well as the company that licenses popular video engines to other game makers, on Wednesday said it had begun development of the Doom 4 title and was seeking for new workforce. The new title promises to bring “hell on earth”, but there are questions whether it would become popular and would use id’s latest id Tech 5 rendering engine.

“Doom is part of the id Software DNA and demands the greatest talent and brightest minds in the industry to bring the next installment of our flagship franchise to Earth. It’s critical for id Software to have the best creative minds in-house to develop games that meet the standards synonymous with our titles,” said Todd Hollenshead, chief executive of id Software.

The game developer stressed that it was expanding its internal team and was hiring to work on the highly anticipated title. Earlier the company has never published official releases about hiring of game developers, which may indicate that the company is now creating a larger team of developers to create new game titles faster.

id Software has not released a single in-house developed game for nearly four years now after the Doom 3 title was launched. Still, Quake 4 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars created by Raven Software and Splash Damage, respectively, made it to the market in 2005 and 2007.

Last year id Software demonstrated its completely new title Rage as well as rendering engine called id Tech 5 developed internally from the ground up. The new game engine, supports Microsoft Windows-based PCs, Apple Macintosh computers running Mac OS as well as popular game consoles – Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3.

id has not unveiled any information regarding the Doom 4 as well as the destiny of the title called Rage. It was also unclear at press time whether Doom 4 utilizes id Tech 5 rendering engine.

“We are looking for talented, ambitious and passionate individuals eager to join our accomplished team of developers working on the industry’s most innovative and anticipated games,” the company said in the statement.

What is not completely clear is how id Software plans to popularize its Doom 4 titles several years from now. When the original Doom was released in 1993, the majority of customers to play it were 15+ years old teens. When the Doom 4 hits the stores, about two years from now in the best case scenario, those gamers will be 32+ years old and hardly really interested in playing such video games. Meanwhile, so-called “Internet generation” (born circa 1991 and later) hardly feel nostalgia towards old-school Doom titles, but are more familiar with newer online games.

Microsoft Gears Up to Release Xbox 360 with New Chips

Microsoft Corp. reportedly plans to release a new version its Xbox 360 video game system code-named Jasper in August and has already assigned IBM and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to make chips for the new game console. However, there are other important rumours: TSMC got orders to produce the chip for code-named Valhalla Xbox 360 design, which is rumoured to combine microprocessor and graphics chip in a single piece of silicon.

The code-named Jasper design of the Xbox 360 game console will use ATI Xenos graphics and memory controller hub (GMCH) made using 65nm process at TSMC as well as IBM Xenon central processing unit (CPU) produced at IBM’s 65nm nodes. The new system design is projected to consume less electricity, use less complex cooling systems and also produce less noise.

By contrast, current Xbox 360 design named Falcon utilizes GMCH and eDRAM cores manufactured using 90nm process technology at TSMC as well as CPU built at IBM using 65nm fabrication process. The first-generation Xbox 360 used 90nm chips.

TSMC is chosen to make the 65nm GMCH chips, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) is contracted to package and test the chips, and Nanya has won orders to supply flip-chip packaging substrates, reports China Economic News Service.

What is, perhaps, more important than the facts that TSMC again got orders to produce ATI Xenos GMCH and IBM land orders on IBM Xenon CPU at expense of Chartered Semiconductor (which once promised to start making 45nm chips for Advanced Micro Devices in 2009), is that “chips” for next-generation Xbox 360 code-named Valhalla will also be made at TSMC. Earlier rumours transpired that Valhalla features a chip that combines CPU and GMCH. In order to build such chip at TSMC, Microsoft either needs to disclose certain design rules of IBM’s fabrication process to the Taiwan-based semiconductor manufacturer, or completely rework the CPU according to fabrication process of TSMC.

Microsoft did not comment on the news-story.

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.

Blu-Ray’s Market Dominance Will Be Delayed – Research Firm

Even though almost a quarter has passed since Toshiba stopped to promote or develop HD DVD video format, sales of competing Blu-ray disc (BD) players did not increase substantially due to high prices. Moreover, a research firm predicts that it would take another year or even eighteen months for Blu-ray hardware to start selling much better and reach their full potential.

“BD player prices remain high, and supplies are limited. This is good for the market because most current players do not support all the functions that studios place on the discs. Lacking support for – or upgradeability to – BD Live! or Bonus View (picture in picture), consumers cannot utilize all the available options. Manufacturers would rather sell more fully-featured models,” said ABI Research principal analyst Steve Wilson.

According to ABI Research, it will be 12 to 18 months before the market of Blu-ray hardware (and, consequently, movies) kicks into gear. Consumer electronics manufacturers need to introduce full-featured players and then get prices down to the $200 level. Until then, non-HDTV owners will certainly favor standard definition DVD players.

Additionally, a depressed economy in the United States could also lead HDTV and prospective HDTV owners to opt for up-converting standard players as they delay buying higher-ticket CE items. Finally, Blu-ray movies come at a substantial premium over standard DVDs, although studios have brought prices down to the low $20-range for some titles.

The market research firm claims that optical disc drive manufacturers have lowered their prices for computer BD-ROM drives in an effort to kick-start adoption in the PC market. But since Blu-ray disc drives, priced three to four times higher than red laser drives, also require relatively advanced microprocessor, graphics adapter and large monitor/HDTV to display Blu-ray movies properly, their adoption will likely be inline with PC replacement cycles and is likely to struggle in entry-level products.

In 2008, Sony PlayStation 3 video game consoles will make up over 85% of the BD players in the field. This lead will continue until 2013 when the installed base of CE- and PC-based BD players finally overtakes the installed base of PS3s.

Intel Eyes Acquisitions of Consumer Electronics-Oriented Companies

There are fears about recession of the economy, but the world’s largest maker of microprocessors Intel Corp. plans to invest while the market is down, just like it did early in the decade. This time Intel intends to take over companies who are focused on development of consumer electronics, said a vice president of Intel Corp. in an interview.

“I think you will see Intel being more acquisitive,” said Patrick P. Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager at Intel’s digital enterprise group, in an interview with the Financial Times.

Earlier this decade Intel acquired a number of non-core assets in various industries, but did not really capitalize on those merges due to lack of strategy ahead of the deals. According to Mr. Gelsinger, the chipmaker has learned its lessons and now would only take over companies that fit into the strategy that already exists at Intel.

The head of digital enterprise group at Intel brought acquisition of Havok last year as an example of a new acquisition approach of the chip giant. Even though Havok acts like a subsidiary of Intel, it is a key element of Intel’s visual computing and graphics efforts.

Mr. Gelsinger said that Intel eyed five areas where it could boost its in-house technology with acquisitions: consumer electronics (CE), advanced mobile applications, embedded devices, visualisation technologies and low-cost computers.

Intel recently introduced its Intel Atom microprocessor with which it targets advanced handheld devices and CE, however, it only unveiled Intel Centrino Atom platform for so-called mobile Internet devices (MIDs), whereas manufacturers of other types of consumer electronics will are likely to develop platforms for Atom themselves.

Intel has also put a lot of effort into development of visualization and graphics technologies as well as creation of low-cost PCs. Therefore, an idea to further boost its own expertise with acquisitions means that Intel is very serious about such products.

EVGA Begins to Sell Graphics Adapters for USB

EVGA, a leading supplier of graphics cards, this week said it had begun to sell USB graphics adapters (UGAs) for personal computers (PCs) that can be plugged directly to USB connectors and do not require any spare PCI Express or PCI slots. The new devices utilize technology from DisplayLink and may be useful for notebooks or small form-factor desktops that cannot be opened, but require additional display or displays.

“DisplayLink technology enables us to deliver a UGA that is affordable, portable, and easy to use, which dovetails perfectly with EVGA’s strategy of penetrating broader consumer markets. At the same time, we hope that the EVGA UV12 and UV16 will help bring DisplayLink’s exciting USB display technology to a wider mainstream audience,” said Joe Darwin, director of marketing for EVGA.

EVGA’s new UV Plus+ Family of products which consists of the UV12 and UV16 USB graphics adapters, are based on DisplayLink network display technology, enabling Windows XP and Vista users to quickly and easily connect multiple displays to a PC or notebook via simple USB connection. EVGA said that up to four displays can be connected to a single PC provided that four UGAs are used.

DisplayLink network display technology – which is already relatively well-known – is used by LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics to power monitors that come with USB or Ethernet connection. Specifically designed chips from DisplayLink can receive a compressed video stream via such interfaces as USB, Ethernet or WiMedia (a wireless data-transfer standard with a throughput up to 480Mbps), uncompress it into video with a resolution up to 1400x1050 (DL-120/EVGA UV12) or 1600x1200 (DL-160/EVGA UV16) and in full 24-bit color, and output it in RGB (for an analog connection to a monitor) or LVDS (for a digital connection) formats.

According to DisplayLink, the network monitor technology supports Windows Vista Aero interface, which requires 3D graphics acceleration, even though the company admits that “there may be interoperability issues with some graphics cards”; in addition, DisplayLink supports video playback.

The EVGA UV12 and UV16 adapters will have an expected street price of “well below $100. Both adapters are now available through EVGA’s network of E-tailers, retailers, systems integrators and distributors.

Nvidia Makes Available Hybrid SLI Graphics Technology

Nvidia Corp., the No. 1 supplier of discrete graphics processing units (GPUs), on Tuesday once again unveiled its Hybrid SLI technology designed to boost performance of low-end graphics sub-systems as well as save energy in cases of high-end graphics cards. This is the third time in the last twelve months when Nvidia intros the technology, though, hopefully it will now be available commercially.

“Hybrid SLI will give consumers the extra GPU performance they need for the increasing numbers of visual PC applications such as today’s PC games. And it will give gamers and PC enthusiasts the quiet and power savings they demand. Hybrid SLI components could very well pay for themselves over the life of the PC,” said Drew Henry, general manager of platform business at Nvidia.

Nvidia Hybrid SLI technology – that requires Nvidia GeForce graphics card and Nvidia nForce-based mainboard – has two modes: the HybridPower, which switches off discrete graphics core and uses only integrated graphics engine when high performance is not needed; the GeForce Boost mode makes integrated graphics processor (IGP) to assist entry-level discrete graphics processing unit (GPU) and boost performance when it is required.

The Hybrid SLI-enabled desktop PC motherboards are designed to create a PC with GeForce GPUs and AMD Phenom processors. There are currently eight chipset models that support HybridPower and GeForce Boost, including nForce 780a SLI, nForce 750a SLI, nForce 730a, nForce 720a, GeForce 8300, GeForce 8200, and GeForce 8100. Besides, there are two graphics cards supporting HybridPower – GeForce 9800 GX2 and GeForce 9800 GTX – and two GeForce Boost-capable graphics cards, including GeForce 8400 GS and GeForce 8500 GT GPUs.

Nvidia’s Hybrid SLI technology is not free of certain limitations that may impact popularity of technology. According to media reports, the first implementation of Hybrid SLI technology not only does not support multi-monitor output capability, but also does not feature dual-link DVI output, which means that such a system cannot support 30” high-end displays with resolution of 2560x1600.

Nvidia formally disclosed information about Hybrid SLI technology in late June, 2007, and promised that the first systems to sport the feature would be available in later 2007. The company officially unveiled the technology in January, 2008, promising to make appropriate hardware available in 2008. In early May, 2008, the company stated that its Hybrid SLI supporting products were available.

Hybrid SLI-enabled PC motherboards for Intel processors and Hybrid SLI-enabled notebooks will be available in Q3 of 2008, Nvidia said.

Advanced Micro Devices May Be Split Into Two Companies – Rumours

Advanced Micro Devices, the world’s second largest supplier of x86 central processing units, may divide itself into two separate companies in order to boost efficiencies of both. AMD has publicly indicated that the company needed restructuring and also admitted that it has been developing so-called “asset-smart” strategy in the last few quarters, but no actual details are clear.

According to a news-story by web-site, there are rumours on the market claiming that Advanced Micro Devices may be split into two companies, one of which would concentrate on contract chip production and another would focus on development of microprocessors, graphics processing units, multimedia chips, core-logic sets and some other products. The rumour has been circulating for some time now, moreover, about half a decade ago AMD already admitted that it would make chips for its partners on a contract basis if it has enough manufacturing capacities.

Currently AMD is struggling to deliver competitive central processing units (CPUs) and also to manufacture them using latest process technologies on time. In addition, the company has to develop GPUs, chipsets and other products, which are made by contract semiconductor makers Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) as well as United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC).

Theoretically, splitting the company into two would allow the independent firms to become more competitive since the contract manufacturing unit would get finances from outside AMD. However, for a maker of x86 CPUs it is crucially important to tailor state-of-the-art fabrication technologies for microprocessor design, something which may not be truly possible in case of bulk process technologies at a contract maker. Additionally, splitting the company into several units would not particularly fit into “asset-smart” strategy.

Another rumour about AMD in the recent months was ouster of chief executive and chairman of the board Hector Ruiz. However, Mr. Ruiz still remains in his office.

AMD did not comment on the news-story.