Processor Whispers: About a golden October and autumn leaves
by Andreas Stiller
It's an old tradition: where Intel shows off its products and roadmaps, AMD is not far away. At the IDF, Intel boasted of the new Haswell processor – but its launch is still nine months away. AMD intends to crank it up right away.
For years, AMD has been setting up camp during the Intel Developer Forum in the uppermost story of the St Regis Hotel in San Francisco, located about 200 metres from the Moscone Center, to lure the visiting developers and journalists away. Sometimes, AMD only has vague announcements to offer, but at other times, there are real highlights, like when they first presented the Opteron. Meanwhile, Intel has turned the tables on AMD by holding a conference in parallel with AMD's Fusion conference in Beauville, near Seattle.
This time, AMD could show off a portfolio of products that aren't far off, all of them scheduled to launch during October. The first to come out will be the desktop versions of the Trinity processor, the specifications of which have already appeared throughout the media. AMD openly admitted that the chips have been ready for quite some time and that they have been held back with consideration to the clearance sale of the old Llano processors.
Naturally, the technology demonstrations – which one is allowed to report on, but without going into detail concerning the chips' specifications – employed the usual benchmarks that, like Photoshop Gaussian Blur, make the similarly priced competitor chip Ivy Bridge pale in comparison because they make use of the GPU. Typically, Ivy Bridge has the upper hand with CPU-intensive workloads. But also OpenCL 1.2 is starting to come into fashion (eg with Gimp), which shows that there is a gradual transition in favour of the GPU – and this is playing into AMD's hands.
But AMD isn't expecting its strongest markets to be in the desktop PC sector any more anyway. Instead, it's counting on Windows tablets, a market that the IDC predicts will increase by a factor of 4 in 2013 in comparison to 2012. And here, AMD can pit its energy-saving Z-60 duo-core APU against Intel's Atom. This APU, code-named Hondo, is a slightly revised version of the Z-01 (Desna) and is supposed to run on less than 5 watts. It will be produced with the same reliable 40nm bulk technology as the Z-01.
The launch of AMD's Brazos-T platform with Z-60 APU, the counterpart to Intel's shortly expected Clover Trail, is planned for mid-October. Like Clover Trail, this platform is designated for tablets and convertibles and, for now, is also only for Windows 8. AMD wasn't able to get its hands on a comparative system with Clover Trail yet – apparently the relationship with Lenovo suffered when AMD poached company boss Rory Read from them. In any case, Lenovo had already presented Clover Trail tablets at IFA. And so, the slow Oak Trail or Cedar Trail tablets from Fujitsu had to be used for a comparison. Against these single-core chips, the two Bobcat cores of the Hondo platform could easily hold their ground. Supposedly, their launch will coincide with the release of a Hondo tablet from an important partner whose name AMD didn't want to reveal to us just yet. Rumours of tablet prices below $500 are spreading.
One of the features of Windows 8 that is often highlighted is the connected standby. It works with Intel's Clover Trail, but AMD didn't manage to get it working. As an alternative, AMD is advertising "Start Now", which supposedly manages booting in 25 seconds and waking up from standby, including internet connectivity, in only two seconds.
Anyway, Microsoft's connected standby shouldn't be overrated, because it's also possible to keep up with your social net contacts and load new messages or virus signatures in a sufficiently energy-saving and more or less up-to-date manner without this technology, without special push servers, metro applications or metro governors. Intel proves as much with the smart connect technology for ultrabooks. Besides, it should also be possible to achieve a similar effect through occasional wake-ups with the Windows task planner.
Departures and Stock Prices
The FX processors with Piledriver cores for high-end desktop PCs – code-named Vishera, with four, six or eight cores, as mentioned in the last Processor Whispers – are scheduled to finally make their debut later in October. In the new Cinebench R13 (still in beta) or Wprime V2.09, the Visheras have already shown their computing prowess compared to their predecessor, Zambezi, while the water-cooling allowed them to reach up to 5GHz. Though, what a Cinebench R13 value of, for instance, 9.06 actually means remains unclear until we have access to this benchmark and further reference values.
There's also news from the server sector. AMD's subsidiary SeaMicro presented its Opteron blades for microservers on the day before the IDF started. The system can now simultaneously be equipped with Atom, Ivy Bridge and Opteron processors – and, in the future, maybe even with ARMs. The SM15000 demonstration model was still equipped with Bulldozer, but it's supposed to roll out with the new Piledriver chips in November, with the single-socket version Seoul for the C32 socket. And SeaMicro boss Andrew Feldman promised that AMD intends to also release the bigger brothers, Delhi and Abu Dhabi, before the year is over.
Thomas Seifert, AMD's CFO and former interim CEO, won't be experiencing this exciting October at the company though. When the cool-headed business expert learned of Intel's Haswell processor, he decided to throw in the towel – or, at least, one could cynically make that assumption. Be that as it may, he will only stay until the end of September, to show his interim successor Devinder Kumar the ropes. It's said that Seifert is going back to Seimens where he previously worked. AMD's stock price had just recovered a little after the SeaMicro announcement, only to plummet again when news of Seifert's departure emerged. However, things don't look much brighter at competitor NVIDIA. Here, the financial department has been headed by an interim executive for a year and a half. And now, news comes that the well-known head of NVIDIA's mobile branch, Mike Rayfield, has recently resigned. Where "Mr Tegra" is headed, remains to be seen. In the past, he has spent some time at Texas Instruments and had also worked at Cisco. Qualcomm would seem likely – but they already got the former head of Intel's mobile branch.