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AMD calls end to core growth on server chips

Design rethink underway with 16 cores on next year's Abu Dhabi chip deemed enough

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Advanced Micro Devices has put the brakes on adding more cores to its server chips, stopping at 16, the company said Thursday during a financial analyst day.

AMD's new server chips code-named Abu Dhabi and due out in 2013 will have 16 cores, the same number as the existing Opteron 6200 chips code-named Interlagos that shipped last year. Servers are being redesigned to match specialty workloads and adding more cores to the Abu Dhabi chip wasn't the way to boost performance, said Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of Global Business Units at AMD, during a speech.

"At the end of the day, that wasn't the right answer for the customers," Su said.

Abu Dhabi is targeted at two- and four-socket servers and will be based on a new processor architecture code-named Piledriver. The chip will be socket-compatible and be a straight plug-in replacement for Opteron 6200 chips, which are based on the Bulldozer core. Abu Dhabi will deliver more performance but consume the same power as the Opteron 6200.

There are other ways to boost server performance, such as using graphics processors, Su said. Graphics processors are used in some of the world's fastest supercomputers to handle demanding scientific and math applications.

"This is where it's about system-level optimisation," Su said.

The company is also open to employing "lots of little cores" to meet specific workloads, Su said. AMD is already researching using its low-power netbook processors to meet light Web serving and cloud workloads, and some servers already employ hundreds of low-power Intel Atom netbook chips to process fast-moving Web transactions.

Chip makers in the past have reduced core counts as some applications are not designed to break up tasks over multiple cores. Oracle in 2010 halved the number of cores in its Sparc T4 processor in an attempt to improve single-thread performance, which is key when running large databases and back-end applications.

Intel has been increasing the number of cores on its chips at a slower pace than AMD. Intel uses 10 cores on its fastest Xeon server chips.

AMD will not add cores to its other server chips either. The company next year will also release new server chips code-named Seoul and Delhi with up to eight cores for different server segments.

AMD also shared additional details about chips for PCs and tablets due this year. The Hondo tablet chip, which will draw up to 4.5 watts of power, will be in Windows 8 tablets later this year, the company said. Chips code-named Trinity will show up in thin-and-light laptops priced between US$600 and $800 by midyear. The laptops will deliver up to 12 hours of battery life and have been pitched as a cheaper alternative to Intel's ultrabooks.

Also due this year are chips code-named Brazos 2.0, the follow up to existing C-Series and E-Series chips found in low-power laptops today. Laptops with Brazos 2.0 chips will deliver roughly the same amount of battery life, but have better graphics and application performance.

AMD also ripped up its old road map and introduced a tablet and laptop processor lineup for next year. A new chip for performance PCs code-named Kaveri will be based on the new Steamroller core. Chips code-named Temash for tablets and Kabini for low-power laptops will improve performance while driving down power consumption.

AMD also outlined a new chip design plan called HSA (heterogeneous systems architecture) in which the company will gradually blur the lines between the CPU and GPU and implement third-party intellectual property inside the chip. The chip code-named Kabini will include some elements of HSA, according to AMD's product road map.


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