Processor Whispers: About big cakes and small biscuits
by Andreas Stiller
Intel plays the musical chairs game, the IT industry celebrates lots of record quarters, only AMD disappoints. Things are uncertain around Globalfoundries and numerous Bryants draw attention.
No, the small bit of cheating during the Direct X11 games demonstration at CES, where he just ran a prepared video clip on an Ivy Bridge Ultrabook, is unlikely to be the reason why Shmuel "Mooly" Eden has left his post as head of the Intel PC Client Group. The truth is, he had been longing to go back to Israel for quite some time – which he had hinted at in private conversations a while ago.
Eden is taking over the lead of Intel Israel, where ex-boss Maxine Fassberg will continue as head of the production division. And she should have her hands full, as Intel plans to crank up the production she's now responsible for with investments amounting to $5 billion for the expansion and construction of factories in Kiryat Gat and elsewhere in Israel. However, the deal is not yet done and dusted, because Intel apparently considers the grant offered by Israel, equalling $265 million, to be too puny and thus is threatening to make investments in Ireland instead.
The company Mellanox, which dominates the market for InfiniBand chips, is from Israel, too – although it also has headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. Once, Intel planned to get a foothold in this interconnect technology as well and wished to quickly integrate it into its chipsets, but then it changed its mind, completely withdrawing from this market. Now that InfiniBand is on the upswing in the server market, Intel wants to dive headlong into the game again. Instead of developing something in a rush, Intel reached an agreement with the number two in this sector, QLogic, to take over this company's InfiniBand branch.
Closing this deal was probably Kirk Skaugen's last official act in his role as general manager of the Data Center Group, as Intel's man for all seasons succeeds Eden as head of the PC Client Group. Diane Bryant – not related by blood or marriage to Intel's current chief operating officer (COO), Andy Bryant – takes over Skaugen's former responsibilities.
As the musical chairs game was in full swing anyway, Intel seized the opportunity to promote Dadi Perlmutter, also from Israel, to chief product officer, which means Diane Bryant and Kirk Skaugen report to him now. Perlmutter will continue to lead the Intel Architecture Group and, with so much power in his hands already, he's considered a possible heir to Paul Otellini's Intel-boss throne – next to Brian Krzanich, who is responsible for Intel's worldwide manufacturing and supposed to occupy Andy Bryant's pole position as COO come May.
Before, Intel presented the results of yet another very successful quarter, with a profit of $3.4 billion and sales of $13.9 billion. Only the Atom branch, which, at $167 million dollars, made 57% less profit than in the year-ago quarter, dampened the result of the financial statement; peanuts, anyway. In any case, with a total sales figure of $54 billion and a profit of $13 billion, 2011 has been the most profitable year in Intel's history.
After all, IBM, contrary to the expectations expressed in the last issue of Processor Whispers, didn't manage to keep its number three position in the IT business. With $106.7 billion dollars of annual sales in the financial year 2011, Big Blue was narrowly beaten by Apple ($108.2 billion).
And Apple has just delivered another record quarter, again surpassing all expectations. It managed to more than double its sales figures to $46.3 billion and its profit to $13 billion dollars. Usually, only energy companies like Exxon, Shell and particularly Gazprom reach such profit figures. Also Microsoft recorded an all-time high for the last quarter, with sales of $20.9 billion dollars. With a profit of $6.6 billion dollars, it furthermore presented an unmatched yield rate.
Next to these giants, AMD appears ant-sized. The last quarter ended in a net loss of $177 million dollars with an unchanged sales figure of close to $1.7 billion dollars. In terms of operating profit, there was a small plus of $71 million, but the write-down of the value of its stake in Globalfoundries by $209 million and restructuring costs of $98 million negatively affected the financial statement according to GAAP standards.
The new CEO, Rory Read, called "RR", is trying to manoeuvre the company back into more tranquil waters with an iron hand. Word is that AMD still isn't pleased with manufacturing daughter Globalfoundries, of which AMD now only owns about 10%. It's even said that AMD is considering moving its complete production to TSMC. This would be a disaster for the town of Dresden in Germany; after all, who else would require the 32 nm SOI process they run there? Also, the new fab 8 in the state of New York is starting its production – not in the expected 28 nm bulk process, but in 32 nm SOI. Notably, the production didn't take off in cooperation with AMD, but with IBM, which simultaneously started with this process in East Fishkill – with still unknown chips. Could it be the new Xbox 720 chip Oban or maybe the long over-due Power7+? Globalfoundries, it's said, is looking toward Japan, negotiating with Toshiba and Renesas and, depending on the outcome, considering acquiring factories there.
However, TSMC is also reported to be facing severe problems with the 28 nm process, the first child of which is the world's largest chip, AMD's Tahiti. According to Mike Bryant – also not related to Intel's Bryants – from the British market research company Future Horizons, ten designs from seven companies are currently in work at TSMC, but there are significant yield problems. The reason seems to be the premature delivery of unfinished cell libraries.
AMD's next mobile chip, Trinity, with the improved Bulldozer core Piledriver, is still designed for 32 nm SOI, though. According to AMD, its estimated release date has moved from "in the first half of the year" to mid-year 2012. In exchange, it's supposed to be a bit faster than previously announced when it does roll out. A new Windows patch is supposed to bring more speed to AMD's new processors, too. The patch, which is meant to improve performance when using multiple cores, is available again – the first time around, it was removed after just one day. As before, there's no measurable gain for single-thread or all-thread operations. Under partial load, however, the improvement is quite noticeable. 7 Zip compressing/decompressing with half the number of threads or 3DMark11 Physics Score shows a performance gain of more than 10%. So far, so good. The question that remains is, why should anyone use only half of the cores to run 7 Zip?