AMD's Quad-Cores: A 1-Month Report Card

The good news is Advanced Micro Devices has a hot product on its hands with the recently released Opteron quad-core processors. The less encouraging news is that some system builder partners say they've had trouble getting their hands on product in the month since AMD launched the server chips codenamed Barcelona.

When the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker debuted the "first native quad-core x86 microprocessor" Sept. 10 in six locations around the world, everybody from Tier 1 OEMs to custom system builders was anxious to see if the next few weeks would prove AMD's claims about superior performance-per-watt, ease of exchange with dual-core Opterons and memory-friendly floating points.

So far, so good, say channel partners.

"There are no hardware conflicts and the power draw is as promised. They delivered on their technicals. On these high-performance compute and memory-intensive applications, they're kicking Intel's butt," said Brian Corn, VP of marketing and business development at Waltham, Mass.-based Source Code.

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But when it comes to delivering on actual product, Corn is not so enthusiastic about AMD's performance.

"We're extremely disappointed with AMD on a product delivery level. What's nice about the product is it runs great, it's rock solid, it really performs. The real problem seems to be is that AMD doesn't have any of these things," he said.

And to add insult to injury, the chip maker isn't explaining the hold-up on deliveries to its system builder channel, Corn said.

"Their management has no answers for the channel as to 'Where is this product?' Their response, instead of the truth, is silence. It's difficult getting no feedback from AMD, when a year ago Hector Ruiz said we will never turn our back on the channel. And now it looks like AMD has fallen into the same pattern, taking care of their Tier 1's and some favored partners, and turning their back on the channel," he said.

An informal poll of other partners indicates that while not all have experienced the difficulties with product availability that Source Code has, delivery of quad-core Opterons has been an issue.

Appro International, a builder of high-performance computing clusters and an AMD platinum partner, recently won a bid with the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories to build 21 438 teraflop Linux computing clusters based on quad-core Opterons. The company is in the process of procuring some 150 building components for the project, which Appro will begin to deploy next month and complete in March, 2008.

When all is said and done, the eight rack-mounted clusters Appro builds for $26 million will feature 48,284 four-socket, quad-core Opteron processors with Infiniband 4x DDR interconnects. The finished product will be known as the Tri-Lab Linux Capacity Cluster, and it will the second-most powerful supercomputer in the world, according to Appro VP of Advanced Technology Solutions John Lee.

With such a large-scale project already in the works and given its top-level partnership status, Appro hasn't had difficulty getting what it needs from AMD. But one reason the Fremont, Calif.-based company doesn't give the chipmaker straight A's on its Barcelona rollout is that AMD didn't immediately release the higher-end chips in the quad-core Opteron family, said Lee.

"Overall it is a winner. But the execution of the rollout wasn't as crisp as we would have liked. The parts they launched first were not their top-of-the-bin ones," he said.

"We were lucky as a premier partner, so we got access to a lot of processors. But the supply of some parts has been difficult. They were late with the product to start with, so obviously there could be internal issues in getting it out. Also, AMD is doing a lot of business with the Tier 1's, so maybe the channel is feeling a little bit of heat because of this."

NEXT: Channel Getting Sent to Back of the Line?

Shah Gautam had a great deal of praise for AMD, but the president of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based custom server builder Colfax guessed that the channel was being pushed to the back of the line for the Barcelona rollout.

"They probably care more about their Tier 1 customers in the initial phase. Maybe that ramp-up has been faster than expected, so the channel is always the last, you know," he said.

But whereas Source Code's Corn felt AMD was still lagging on delivery too far past such a highly-promoted launch date, Gautam wasn't fussed with the rate of the ramp-up.

"Right now it's running at a week or so lead-time on orders, which is to be expected. We can place orders and get product when we need it. From that perspective, just a few weeks after the launch, it's been a pleasant surprise," he said.

Like his peers, Gautam was pleased with the product itself. And nearly every source ChannelWeb spoke with reported a great deal of interest in quad-core Opterons from customers.

"Customers have just been amping for this, holding their breath. So people weren't making purchases of existing products, because they were waiting for Barcelona, like people will wait for a big movie premiere," said Appro's Lee.

On the distribution side, feedback on customer demand was a little more mixed.

"The AMD business is at a good healthy run-rate and we're definitely seeing interest from our system integrators for the new quad-core. Sales are coming in daily and the team is working hard to get the products to market," said a spokesperson for Ingram Micro in an e-mail.

Across the aisle at Tech Data, it was a different story.

"It doesn't sound like processors are a big conversation starter from our customers," a spokesperson for the distributor told ChannelWeb.

For Corn, the hope is that AMD gets its act together on getting Source Code the product it wants. Because despite the hassles, Barcelona is definitely a CPU that his company does want.

"The silver lining is that they have a rock solid product. The samples that went out, the benchmarks are great. The demand is huge. We can work with the typical one- or two-week delay of delivery after a 'paper launch.' But in this case it looks like they don't have product ready and we're all out here hanging in the wind," Corn said.

"And to do this to the channel? Well, we're the ones who really brought AMD back with Opteron in the first place. They ought to think twice about what they're doing here."

With additional reporting by Jennifer Lawinski