Core Wars

DQI Bureau
New Update

In one of the Intel Developer Forums (IDF) last year, Pat

Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager, Digital Enterprise Group,

Intel, demonstrated an eighty-core prototype processor from Intel. He took a dig

at competition and said they had lots of catching up to do. Interestingly, in

the vicinity of the IDF event, the companys archrival, AMD, put up a

signboard statingtowards futurepointing to AMD, and another arrow

saying way to IDF. While it was a figment of creativity, it in a way shows

the sign of things. Intel is, definitely, the master of processors, but its

got some serious competition from AMD. Though Intel has brushed aside AMD, the

very fact that its speaking about competition in its technology forums

indicate that AMD has emerged as a rival, and it has garnered a customer base,

mainly on the server and high-end computing space.


Battle Lines Drawn

Experts say that processor designs have witnessed several
inflection points, and perhaps the most significant of them was the introduction

of the x86 processors, which brought in the 32-bit architecture to mainstream

computing, and sustained for almost a decade. In 2003, AMD launched its 64

architecture and broke the decade-long dominance of 32-bit processors. Soon

after this, in 2005, first dual core processors from AMD sowed the seeds of the

multi-core era and started the 64-bit market movement.

Intel, over the years, has been the visible face in the chip

industry. However, AMD made silent strides in high-end computing, with verticals

like education, research, and segments like data centers and HPC buying AMDs

Opteron server chips. Here comes the fundamental difference between AMD and

Intel. Intel is present in all the computing segmentsdesktop, notebook and

servers, while AMD initially created successful proof points on the server side

and later on the desktop and gaming front. Intel, from the beginning, is more of

an end-to-end player, and given its financial and marketing muscle, Intel

continues to dominate the scheme of things.


Performance Per Watt

On the enterprise server side, the x86 is the biggest slice of
the market and here is where the action gets aggressive between Intel and AMD.

For instance, for the past three years, AMD has been adopting a new matrix of

performance, termed as performance-per-watt. AMD says it came out with

this term and later Intel followed. According to Vamsi Krishna, senior technical

manager, AMD India, "Opteron processors help power a cooler data center by

offering increased server performance without replacing existing cooling and

energy envelopes. AMD also advocated a way in standardizing a

performance-per-watt by means of the amount of energy consumed per unit of

computational power". To that end, AMD Opteron processors also came up with

features like PowerNow, aimed at reducing the amount of power required to

perform the same tasks.

The performance per watt is indeed a clever invention by AMD.

Having gone to the extent of claiming that the Moores Law is no longer valid,

AMD, in the last few years, mainly during 2003-04, was not able to cope with

Intel in terms of MHz. Intel came out with, as per the Moores Law, higher

clock speed processors, and most of the industry went by processor speed

benchmarks as the key criterion in determining the efficacy of the processor.

But, as servers increased, so did power and heat generated by the processors.

And consumers started measuring other aspects of the processors like its energy

efficiency, power consumed, and multi-tasking among others. So, in a way, AMD

needs to be credited for busting the MHz myth.


"Today, as we talk in

terms of nanometers, we have almost reached the transistors ultimate

smallness. There are physical obstacles to shrink transistors further and

further, which ultimately results in severe limitations"

"Intel Xeon-based

multi-processor servers are the backbone of the enterprise. We are driving

the Intel core micro architecture into innovative systems that use less

energy than our older models. Its simply amazing."


senior technical manager, AMD India

director, sales, Intel South Asia

The performance-per-watt assumed bigger proportions in 2005,

when AMD openly challenged Intel. Called the Dual Core Duel, the original

challenge issued to Intel was that the power consumption was the key

consideration in processors. AMD averred that mainstream dual-core AMD Opteron

processors at 95 watts consume far less power than the competitions dual-core

x86 server processors. This resulted in 200% better performance-per-watt than

the competition. Even greater performance-per-watt can be achieved with

lower-power dual-core AMD Opteron processors that are available in 55 watt

offerings, as per an AMD statement. To counter AMDs claims, Intel also jumped

into the performance-per-watt mantra, and launched its Xeon ranges in 2005.

While AMD overtook Intel in launching dual core Opteron, on the

quad-core front, Intel became the first mover. In November 2006, Intel launched

the industrys first multi-core processorsXeon 5300, and Core 2 Extreme

Quad. Intels president and CEO Paul Otellini remarked at the launch that the

capabilities of quad-core microprocessors would bring new possibilities for

science, entertainment, and enterprise computing.


Taking a closer look at Intels Quads, the company sources

said that the 5300 Quads enable higher server virtualization than any other

two-processor, standard, high-volume server platform. The new processors, as per

Intel, deliver up to 50% faster performance within the same thermal envelope and

at the same cost as the previous generation dual-core Intel Xeon processor 5100

series. Intel now offers more than twenty server and desktop quad-cores from

fifty Watts and up to 3GHz. Building on the advantages of its earlier quad-core

Xeon 5300 series, Intel last month came out with another new quad-core Xeon

processor 7300 series for multi processor (MP) servers. Says R Ravichandran,

director (sales), Intel South Asia: "Intel Xeon-based multi-processor

servers are the backbone of the enterprise. We are delivering new levels of

performance and performance- per-watt, and driving the Intel Core micro

architecture into such innovative systems as four-socket, 16-core blades that

use less energy than our older models. Its simply amazing."

AMD has

been adopting a new matrix of performance, termed as performance-per-watt.

AMD says it came out with this term and later Intel followed

Intel has a clear lead over AMDs first Quad, codenamed

Barcelona, launched recently. But AMD says that Barcelona is a true Quad and the

first true native x86 quad-core server and workstation processor. Says Vamsi

Krishna: "Barcelona is the most advanced x86 processor at compelling price

points that will enable enterprises to maximize their IT investments. The

Barcelona processor has been engineered for unparalleled performance and

performance-per-watt." AMD is bullish about Barcelona adoption by

enterprises, and its next quarter results will definitely tell to what extent

has Barcelona helped AMD to tide over the financial pressures it has been facing

in the recent times.


Virtualization Capabilities

The embedded virtualization features in processors consist of a
set of processor enhancements that improve traditional software-based

virtualization solutions. These integrated features give virtualization software

the ability to take advantage of offloading workload to the system hardware,

enabling more streamlined virtualization software stacks and near native

performance characteristics. Intel Virtualization is called VT (Virtualization

Technology). Meanwhile, AMD has incorporated its Direct Connect Architecture and

AMD-V, virtualization technologies in its Opteron.

The AMD 64 computing platform can run both 32- and 64-bit

virtual machines on the same physical server, without the need of rewriting the

code. The Direct Connect Architecture also directly connects the CPU to the

memory, I/O, and other processors. The integrated memory controller provides

high-speed, low-latency access to memory, and can help host and guest operating

systems function more efficiently. Going by AMD sources, "The

HyperTransport technology provides a scalable interconnect between processors,

I/O, and other chipsets. This can help support more guest OS sessions and more

user access applications."


"We had just one

partner (IBM) in 2003 when we first launched the Opteron Processor. Today,

when we launched the worlds first native quad core processor, we have

over fifty server solutions from all leading partners across the globe,

including leading Indian OEMs like HCL, Wipro and PCS"

Deepanshu Sharma,

general manager, Marketing, AMD India

Intel has also come out with new low-voltage quad-core Xeons

that represent a 35 to 60% decrease in power from Intels existing 80- and

120-watt quad-core server products. According to Intel sources, todays IT

managers increasingly focus on reducing electricity bills and cooling costs

associated with computing infrastructure. Virtualization has emerged as a

compelling technology for server platforms, offering data center managers the

ability to consolidate multiple workloads on one physical server system. Server

consolidation offers lower hardware acquisition costs as well as improved data

center performance efficiency. Besides, Intel has also taken remote

manageability to new levels with its vPro for desktops and cPro for notebooks.

The way forward for the processor market looks extremely

exciting. Intels very aggressive multi-core moves in the last ten months have

put immense pressure on AMD.


The market is getting very clearly defined on the lines of

performance per watt. Take the case of Suns entry into the high-performance

segment with its UltraSparc T2 Niagara chip, the industrys first 8-core

processor that boasts of some revolutionary power saving features. According to

sources at Sun, the UltraSPARC T2 is the industrys first processor to bring

together the key functions of a server system on a single chipprocessing,

networking, security, floating point units, input/output (I/O), and accelerated

memory access. It also provides ample computing power for massively threaded

operating system like Solaris. Integrating these elements on a single piece of

silicon, increases performance, reliability, energy-efficiency and cost savings,

as per Sun.

Taking a

closer look at Intels Quads, the 5300 Quads enable higher server

virtualization than any other Intel has a clear lead over AMDs first

Quad, codenamed Barcelona, launched recently

Marking a shift from its earlier 95nm T1 processor, the T2 has

reduced form factor as a result of its 65nm process, thereby, enabling Sun to

reduce the processor size by 10%. Says David Yen, executive vice president,

Microelectronics, Sun Microsystems: "The new UltraSPARC T2 unfolds a new

premise in power-performance paradigm; it took three-and-a-half years to

develop. The UltraSPARC T2 processor doubles the performance of our existing

UltraSPARC T1 without increasing the CPU clock frequency or quadrupling its

cache sizes."

Looking Ahead

The ongoing war between Intel and AMD is leading to better
products and greater performance. The last two years have seen a sea change in

the chip market. No longer is processor speed the sole criterion, it is the

platform approach that both AMD and Intel take. For instance, its a desktop,

notebook and server platform and within each platform, vendors are building a

set of features that are needed for optimum computing. It is an ecosystem where

performance, power efficiency, virtualization, and heat distribution are

seamlessly integrated with processing speed.

Benchmarking a Processor

Is the number of cores a key

in determining a processors
efficiency? Well, experts say that solely

going by the number of cores is an incorrect yardstick in representing a

benchmark, as faster dual-core CPUs are capable of outperforming slower

quad-core CPUs. Benchmarks are metrics used to evaluate computing

performance in specific workloads; different workloads require different

system configurations. To gauge the performance of a system, it is

important to select appropriate benchmarksa fast server virtualization

or a high scalable database, relevant benchmarks need to be selected.

Experts say that there is no single benchmark that will reveal everything

entirely. Proper consideration of benchmarks means weighing them for

hidden issues and relating them to the usage models such as scalability,

deployment flexibility, operational costs etc. These are certain factors

that should be weighed and prioritized. Experts opinion is that

benchmarks are complex tools, and should be considered carefully when

making IT purchase decisions.

Meanwhile, Intel has countered AMDs Barcelona with its latest

multi-processor Xeons on the 7300 series, which was codenamed Tigerton. It is

also working on updating the Centrino platform, and soon would be launching 45nm

Penryn family of processors. On the cards is also a total revamp of its mobile

platform, codenamed Montevina. On AMDs part, it has already started

working towards laying the groundwork for new server and PC processor

innovations that will begin appearing in the next two years. Says Vamsi:

"We are bringing together a set of technologies, including those that we

acquired from the acquisition of ATI last year, to deliver a new, accelerated

computing paradigm. In addition to the standard quad-core Opteron model, we also

plan to launch a processor with higher power efficiency." On the desktop

side, AMD would be shipping true quad-core and dual-core Phenom-based desktop

systems by the end of this year. On the notebook front, AMD is working on the

next-generation open platform, codenamed Puma; the platform is designed to

deliver greater battery life, graphics and video processing enhancements, and is

aimed at improving the overall system performance for an enhanced visual

experience. It is codenamed Griffin.

At the end of the day, as we look at the battle for supremacy,

AMD has got a significant winner with its latest quad-core processor. AMD has

taken a whole new approach in breaking the MHz myth with its Quad. But Intel,

with rapid-fire launches and slew of processors on the anvil, will make things

tough for AMD. Market dominance is no longer about speed; the winner is the one

who can demonstrate each aspect of the performance-per-wattand its no longer

a market pitchvendors need to come out with proof points, and the quarter

ahead will prove- who is technologically supremeIntel or AMDthe jury is

out in the open.

Shrikanth G