Monday, February 23, 2009

It is 1998 all over again. Will next year be 1999 all over again?

In 1998 AMD was living on the fringes, satisfying itself with the lower end of the market.

They produced a better alternative to older Intel Processors. You could buy a nice AM5x86 and give your 486 computer a performance similar to that of a Pentium 75 (I did, for 6 Machines), or, you could design your system around a K6-2 (bought and recomended a few, from Compaq), but no way of catching the performance of a (non-Celeron) P-II.

A system integartor would certainly be doing a good move building a low end system with AMD parts. No need to redesign your Socket 3 or Socket 7 Mobo, just a few BIOS tweaks (whole different story with Super 7). That course of action appealed to upgraders, gamers, and even some Tier-1 manufacturers (most noteworthy, Compaq) for their lower end consumer lines, but for High-End Workstation/Servers, Intel was the only game in town.

All that changed in 1999 onwards, when AMD gave Intel three hard punches to the ego (but not their wallets) in the X-86 space, with the K-7/Atholn & K8/Opteron:

1° To develop Cooper Interconnects.
1° To beat the 1Ghz Barrier.
1° To develop X86-64 (AMD-64).

Fast forward to 2009. AMD just released the Phenom II Processor. And today, I read a very interesting review . The fine folks at ArsTechnica took a PhenomII X4 940, overclocked it to 4.2Ghz (using a phase change cooler), and ran a comparison between a stock Phenom II X 940, the overclocked one, an Intel Core i7 965, a Core i7 920 and a Core 2 Quad QX9650, all Intel chips running at stock clock speeds...

And here we are, back to 1998 all over again, the PhenomII part is good, and competitive witht the older generation Intel parts (Penryn derivatives), and at a better price points, but you would be hard pressed to justify doing new deployments of High End Workstation or Servers based on it when you compare to the latter Intel offerings (Core i7 derivatives)...

Please read the full review, but, I guess this quote from the conclusions will summarize it:

«Deneb's comparative performance against the Core i7-965 and Core i7-920, however, is rather troubling. Even at 4.2GHz and with an IMC running at 2.53GHz (1120MHz memory clock), Deneb doesn't always outperform Intel's lower-end, 2.67GHz solution, much less the top-end i7-965. It's true that the i7-965 is a $1,000 part today, but a Deneb clocked at the rates we tested (if such a thing existed for the commercial market) would run at least $1K as well.

Our data indicates that AMD has a long-term problem it's not going to be able to solve with clockspeed. The company's next 45nm refresh will have to include architectural improvements that result in significantly higher performance clock-for-clock—bolting more L3 cache on the core isn't going to be the magic answer. Socket AM3 arrives soon with support for DDR3-1300, but that's no silver bullet, either—desktop applications tend to be latency-sensitive, not bandwidth-limited.»

Now, I really HOPE that AMD survives the downturn. The world really needs an AMD, but I do not see how next year, or the year after that, can be a 1999 for AMD. The lower end of the market will have to do...

Full Disclosure: Small tweaks to the article.


Eddie said...

Interesting comparison.

I just wrote an article about the decade over.

I think the difference this time is that AMD is definitively not in the upward path of the life arc.

Both of our articles show that the AMD-Intel (dis)parity is as it used to be in 1998 but with AMD now going down and Intel going up