AMD’s Istanbul Goes Head To Head With Intel

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AMD has announced its 6-core Istanbul chip. How will it fare against Intel’s 8-core Nehalem EX?

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The struggle between Intel and AMD in the x86 server market has reached a new level, with AMD launching its six-core Istanbul chip and Intel talking about its upcoming eight-core Nehalem EX processor.

AMD officials say Istanbul will touch on the two-, four- and eight-socket spaces, and is coming out six months ahead of schedule. Nehalem EX will start appearing in systems in early 2010. But the high end could prove to be fertile ground for Intel and AMD, as many enterprises are looking to move away from the RISC/Itanium/mainframe space, according to one analyst.

Let the battle commence

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are both aiming at the high end of the server space with their upcoming processors.

Intel officials have outlined details of its eight-core “Nehalem EX” Xeon MP processor aimed at servers with four or more sockets. Boyd Davis, general manager of Intel’s server platforms marketing group, said during a press conference that the chip — which will start shipping to OEMs later this year and appear in systems in early 2010 — will give enterprises an alternative to RISC-based environments.

Now comes AMD with the launch of its six-core “Istanbul” Opteron chip, which officials say will compete not only with Intel’s Xeon 5500 Series “Nehalem EP” in the two-socket space, but also with Nehalem EX in the four- and eight-socket arena.

And, they said, it is about ready to go now, a good half-year before Nehalem EX and months before it was initially scheduled to ship. The chip is expected to launch the week of June 1, and most top-tier OEMs are expected to roll out Istanbul-powered systems.

That’s a big deal not only to OEMs and end users, but to AMD itself, Pat Patla, vice president and general manager of AMD’s server and workstation division, said in an interview.

Getting over Barcelona

“Yes, AMD did not execute, and we had some issues bringing it to market,” Patla said.

“It” was “Barcelona,” the company’s first quad-core Opteron that was hampered by technical problems and delays. However, AMD changed the processes used to develop chips — for example, putting one engineer in charge of the entire process, as well as the creation of centres of excellence for particular areas of engineering expertise — and the next Opteron chip, “Shanghai,” came in months ahead of schedule.

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