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AMD Pushes Back Barcelona Ramp-Up to Q1 2008

Three months after launch of its quad-core Opteron chip, AMD is still only shipping to a select few partners, while HP won't debut Barcelona servers until 'early calendar Q2.'

Opteron

A chip-level bug, or errata, that affected both the quad-core Opterons and AMD's recently released quad-core Phenom desktop processors was "part of the reason" for the sluggish ramp-up, said Phil Hughes of AMD Global Communications.

AMD's president and COO Dirk Meyer said in an October earnings call that its new server chips would be "widely available by the middle of this quarter" and that the company expected "to ship hundreds of thousands of quad-core processors this quarter into the server and desktop segments."

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker is still "on track to do hundreds of thousands of quad-cores" shipped in the fourth quarter, Hughes said. However, "on the first point, that has been revised a bit," he said, referring to Meyer's statement that the chip codenamed Barcelona would be "widely available" as of December.

Hughes said that AMD was now targeting the first quarter of 2008 for widespread availability of Barcelona to its tier-one and channel partners. The new quad-cores have been readily available to certain customers, particularly those with contracts to build high-performance compute clusters. Hughes said large quad-core Opteron shipments to companies like Milpitas, Calif.-based Appro International, which is building a Barcelona-based supercomputer for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, plus shipments of the Phenom desktop CPU will add up to the "hundreds of thousands" promised by Meyer.

In a report that appeared Monday on The Tech Report, one AMD tier-two reseller is quoted as saying the chipmaker had put a "stop ship" order on all quad-core Opterons due to erratum related to the translation lookaside buffer (TLB).

But the assertion that all Barcelona shipments had ceased was inaccurate and irresponsible, Hughes said. "We're shipping on a customer-by-customer basis. That scenario, a 'stop ship,' never took place," he said.

A quick survey of AMD partners indicated that customers with specialized needs such as Appro and Los Altos, Calif.-based Liquid Computing were having Opteron orders filled, contrary to The Tech Report source.

Keith Millar, VP of product management at Liquid Computing, said his company's relatively low-volume processor requirements and position as a leader in a cutting-edge technology space gave it a special relationship with AMD.

"AMD's been treating us pretty good. We're in a different situation than HP or Dell because we're the leading provider of fabric computing architecture, which is a disruptor technology, and our volume needs aren't nearly as high. So we get the love and attention from AMD and we get fast-tracked," Millar said.

Partners with more mainstream needs indicated that AMD's new quad-cores were not readily available.

A Hewlett-Packard spokesperson, while declining to comment directly about the chip's availability, said the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computing giant would not offer Barcelona servers until next spring.

"AMD's an important partner of ours, and we have rack-based servers and blade servers built on quad-core Opterons that we plan to support in early calendar Q2," he said.

Equus Computer Systems VP of marketing Joe Toste said his company was generally happy with Opteron from a product standpoint but wondered how badly the supply problems would affect AMD's already precarious position vis-'-vis Intel.

"The question is, will AMD have a sufficient supply of Phenom and Barcelona? The guys in blue have got them by the throat. There are some shortcomings on the product, but if they have the availability there's a real place for it," said Toste, who added that Minneapolis-based Equus has a mainstream lineup of PC products that is "almost all quad."

Toste said AMD's rough year -- the chipmaker has posted operating losses for several quarters -- might redefine the competition arena for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel in 2008.

"The irony is that we need a strong AMD. But in this next year, I think we'll see Intel shift their paranoia from AMD to Nvidia," he said.

As for erratum that affected both the new Opteron and Phenom processors, which Tech Report sources said could only be corrected with a BIOS fix that came with a 10 to 20 percent performance penalty, Hughes said the issue was something AMD had discussed publicly.

"We notified customers about it. There's a BIOS fix for it that ensures system stability, for both Barcelona and Phenom processors. In that Q1 timeframe [when Barcelona will be made more widely available] it will be addressed in the architecture design," he said.

Asked if the erratum had anything to do with the delay of a more widespread roll-out of Barcelona, Hughes said, "I would characterize the errata as part of the reason. We want to ensure that each customer gets the maximum performance according to their needs."

Open source security guru Theo de Raadt, who publicized similar chip-level glitches on Intel's Core 2 processors in June, wasn't too sympathetic with AMD.

"There's one and only one reason this happens -- time-to-market pressures being placed ahead of engineering. And when it happens, the vendors deserve every single bit of the negative publicity they get," de Raadt told ChannelWeb.

"Modern processors don't all go into gamer machines. People need this stuff to work."

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