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08 April 2013, 09:51

Processor Whispers: Of spring and April Fool's jokes

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by Andreas Stiller

NVIDIA CEO becomes Intel CEO (maybe), Opteron with Steamroller architecture rolls out earlier (maybe), Dell plans to shift its focus more towards PCs again and spring is finally coming – lots of news at the start of April.

In the last issue, we mentioned ex-ARM CEO Warren East as a potential candidate for the CEO position at Intel. Now, the chief druid of the rumour mill, the Scottish journalist Mike Magee, has thrown in another interesting name, the one of Intel's arch-nemesis, Jen-Hsun Huang. Intel's headhunters have reportedly contacted him already. Well, this report was from the first of April, but, on the other hand, why should a good headhunter agency not shortlist the successful NVIDIA CEO and former AMD microprocessor designer from the times of the Am286? After all, at Intel, it does make a good impression to know something about technology on top of having good rhetorical skills, and Huang co-holds eight U.S. patents, among them one on the clock distribution in processors. The only Intel CEO to top that, with 12 patents, was the legendary Intel founder and co-inventor of the integrated circuit, Robert Noyce. The economist Paul Otellini and his predecessor, the materials researcher Craig Barrett, stand empty handed in this regard.

A rumour about Huang being a potential candidate already had actually made the rounds before Christmas, back then referred to as a "crazy rumour", which also claimed that ex-Intel CEO Andy Grove would probably have to act as headhunter – but at least Grove holds two patents ...

Opteron Roadmap
Zoom In a presentation for investors, AMD has "preponed" the Steamroller on the Opteron roadmap to 2013.
Source: AMD
Also on the first of April, there was a report about AMD rolling out the next Opteron generation with Steamroller architecture a year early. Attentive eyes had spotted the date 2013 on a slide of an investor presentation for Meryll Lynch. But since when does something like that happen at AMD: a "preponed" processor?

It's true that the Opteron Shanghai was released a bit earlier than expected in 2009, as an urgent replacement for the utterly failed Barcelona processor. Still, a new Steamroller Opteron? Without hyper-transport and with PCIe 3.0? Such a processor would require new sockets, new boards, new chipsets – and all of it before the end of the year?

In fact, we will be lucky if the processor indicated in the slide, which should be the desktop processor Kaveri that was promised for 2013, with two or four Steamroller cores and next generation graphics, really gets released this year – and it would probably only be a so-called revenue launch for the books and not for the market. With a significantly improved frontend and a larger instruction cache, the Steamroller might very well deliver a performance increase of 30 per cent in the integer realm at the same clock speed as Piledriver.

AVX2 doesn't seem to be planned for it though. So apparently only Intel's Haswell, whose CPU cores are otherwise only slightly faster than their Ivy Bridge predecessors, will be offering this feature. Nonetheless, Haswell's numerous graphics options, with the GT3 with on-package cache memory (HD5200) at the top, will allow for a significant boost to the graphics in high-performance notebooks – up to a factor of three in comparison to the HD4000 in Ivy Bridge. According to a diagram that was leaked to the vr-zone web site, the ultrabook versions will only have the weaker HD5000/5100 without any additionally cache. In any case, the GT3 versions with 40 execution cores are not due until later in the year, the first Haswells, scheduled for June, will only feature GT2 (HD4200 to 4600).


Michael Dell probably didn't see this coming: He had just announced his plan to pay out Dell's shareholders with $24.4 billion – with support from other investors such as the investment group Silver Lake – to make the company, which had been founded and led by him, go private again, when he not only met strong resistance from large institutional shareholders but also unexpected competition. First in the shape of the 77-year-old Wall Street Croesus, Carl C. Icahn, whose fortune is estimated at around $20 billion. Without further ado, the businessman with a bad reputation for being a troublemaker bought into Dell with a billion dollars, demanded and was granted access to the company's records and then, shortly before Easter, he sent a letter to the "Dear Members of the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of Dell and Advisors" submitting his own plan for a reformation of Dell.

And then, out of nowhere, another investment group stepped in: the Blackstone Group also sent a letter, with an offer better than the one from Michael Dell, but they are only willing to join the bidding if Dell Inc. covers the costs for the group's expenses, $25 million. Even by American standards, that is "a highly unusual manoeuver", says the New York Times. Somehow this calls to mind the countless winnings and profitable business offers that arrive in our email boxes on a daily basis – you only have to transfer a small "contribution towards expenses" to some bank account first ...

Be that as it may, Michael Dell has reportedly come to an agreement with Blackstone already, according to which he will remain CEO no matter what comes of the bidding competition. Apparently everyone will have to raise their offers anyway because Dell's share price has meanwhile surpassed the offers from Dell/Silver Lake and Blackstone.

Another party supporting Michael Dell is Microsoft, with an investment of $2 billion. The Redmonders are believed to have an interest in Dell's ailing PC business. Lately, Dell had moved its focus away from PCs, reinventing itself, in the first place, as an IT service company. To this end, numerous software companies were acquired and the Dell software branch was founded. But in a memo to his unsettled employees, Michael Dell has now announced that the company will increasingly invest in the PC and tablet market again ... and that the best days were still ahead – well, just like Magee's report, this memo arrived on the first of April.

Earlier, in a preliminary, 276 pages long "Proxy Statement", addressed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Dell board had not only unanimously – without Michael Dell – supported the offer made by the company's founder, but also described the PC market as a dead end and the current "build to order" business model as outmoded. The statement goes on to say that the acceptance of Windows 8 is uncertain and that companies are upgrading to Windows 7 more hesitantly than expected. Customers are supposedly more interested in tablets and smartphones, but the company has only sold tablets in limited quantities and no smartphones at all. Weird, Michael Dell didn't say anything about smartphones in his memo ...



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