Intel, AMD bring on quad-core duel

Intel Corp.’s release this week of the ‘Tigerton’ Xeon 7300 chip was promptly met with rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s contention that the technology is merely packaged dual-cores, and not native quad-core.

Intel unveiled Wednesday a new version of its Xeon processor, touting it as the “industry’s first quad-core processors specifically designed for multi-processor servers”. The announcement came just before AMD’s release of its quad-core chip, Barcelona, next week.

AMD’s Steve Demski, product manager for AMD Opteron, claimed his company has a superior quad-core design based on four cores integrated on a single piece of silicon, therefore granting enhanced performance.

“Basically [Intel is] taking dual-core dies and essentially packaging those two things together. You’re not giving the market a quad-core, you’re giving the market two dual cores that are patched together,” he said.

“So from a technology standpoint, there is nothing new there.”

The architecture of AMD’s quad-core chip, said Demski, is advantageous for cost and power consumption, and performance on multi-threaded applications, “which is the reason that you’re buying a four-socket system to begin with.”

AMD’s reaction is merely a result of being late to market with its quad-core chip, said Intel’s Kennedy Brown, Xeon expandable product line manager.

“[AMD is] trying to claim that by putting the four cores on one piece of silicon, it’s a superior product. They’re having to do that because to some extent, they’re nearly a year late, so that’s why it appears that they’re grasping at straws,” Brown said.

According to Brown, Intel’s quad-core design doesn’t affect chip performance, as evidenced by “clear leadership” in areas of scalable performance, virtualization performance and energy efficiency.

“The reality is, that really doesn’t matter, we’ve already shipped millions of our quad cores using a dual dies approach and customers really care about overall performance,” he said.

AMD’s reaction to the Tigerton announcement is hardly surprising given the rivalry between the two heavyweights in this space, said James Staten, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

“AMD, as I would expect it to do, is trying to spread a little fud about their competitor’s chip partly because they beat them to market,” Staten said.

There is no reason for anyone to think that Barcelona will be inferior to Tigerton, in fact, it’s probably going to be just as good, said Staten. “These two vendors are constantly leapfrogging each other. And it’s always a constant race to be first to market with the latest chip.”

Demski said he understands the perception that AMD is reacting to being beaten to market, however, he insisted AMD has the superior technology.

“While it’s taken us longer to get to market, I think we’re getting to market with a better solution and the fact that we’re a native quad core is one part of that. There’s actually a lot more that we’re putting into our quad core,” Demski said.

According to Staten, AMD’s claim that Tigerton’s architectural design makes it less effective for enterprise workload demands is unfounded. “It’s still a quad core, so what if the architectural design is a little different from theirs.”

Staten said the differences between Barcelona and Tigerton will show themselves differently in various applications and workloads, “and we don’t yet know right now what’ s going to be best for what, it just depends on how these things actually get used in production by various customers.”

The performance hinges, in part, on how server manufacturers package the processors, he said. “The first Tigerton systems from HP are going to have very consolidation-centric designs, and so they’re going to be very good for doing virtual workloads of a variety of kinds.”

HP announced Thursday its lineup of multi-processor-based server systems that use Intel’s Xeon 7300 processor series.

Enterprise customers should use this spat between AMD and Intel to their advantage during negotiations, said Staten. “These are two very good processor architectures and they’re going to get a lot of really nice server designs from the server manufacturers with either one of these choices.”

However, he cautions enterprises to test applications intended to run on the technology because available benchmarks may not necessarily translate well to corporate workloads.

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