AMD Announces Two New Channel Programs

Two weeks ago at LinuxWorld, the chip giant unveiled a new stage in its AMD Validated Server Platforms program, making available for the first time platforms certified for Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server under the Novell "YES Certified" designation. On Sunday at the CMP Channel XChange '07 conference, AMD director of North American marketing Gary Bixler talked up a pair of channel-directed announcements for the VARs gathered at the Orlando, Fla. event.

In a move aimed at resellers serving gamers, enthusiasts and digital content creators, AMD on Monday released the Athlon 64 X2 6400+ or "Black Edition." Only available through the channel, the Black Edition has a 3.2 GHz dual-core processor which features an integrated 128-bit dual-channel memory controller, DDR2 memory up to and including PC2 6400 (DDR2-800) unbuffered memory, and a dedicated 2MB L2 cache. Packaged in black (of course), the 6400+ is priced at $251 per unit, without a fan as a processor-in-a-box.

Bixler touched on a second channel announcement targeting system builders at XChange, this one introducing single-socket motherboards with new platform providers as part of its AMD Validated Solutions (AVS) program, as well as the upgrading of platinum and gold-level partners to a new next-business-day exchange service for boards and member-level partners to a two-day exchange program.

Super Micro Computer and Tyan Computer Corporation join the list of AVS platform providers, which also includes existing desktop providers Asus, ECS, Gigabyte and MSI, upping the choices available to AVS members to 10 motherboard platforms, including eight commercial desktop motherboards and the two new 1P server boards.

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"We feel like this gives us the strongest offerings AMD has ever had in white box market. This is where we first announced the original AVS program, with a set of motherboards that had the AVS designation [in 2006]. We pledged back then that we would expand the features of that program and Monday's announcement shows we're committed to doing just that," said Bixler in an interview with ChannelWeb last week.

He said the addition of the 1p server platforms and a faster turnaround on board exchanges would be attractive to system builders servicing large clients.

"We think it gives them more confidence to bring AMD into these environments, the enterprises and large government agencies with thousands of seats," Bixler said.

For one system builder not shy about expressing his doubts about AMD's checkered history with third-party board vendors, the new AVS promises are a step in the right direction but still not enough. J&B Technologies' John Kistler has been a vocal critic of AMD in the past, and isn't ready to concede the vendor's board problems are over just yet.

"If it's true, it's great," said the owner of the St. Louis-based white-box builder of the new board exchange program. In the past, he said, it had taken much longer -- as long as seven weeks in one case -- for J&B Technologies to get a board replaced by a motherboard manufacturer like Asus or Tyan.

But other issues remained, namely compatibility issues between AMD CPUs and third-party platforms, Kistler said.

"In my opinion, this is still one step short of them making their own motherboard. They need to acquire a motherboard manufacturer. If they're going to buy ATI for the chipset on the video card, I'm just not seeing the synergy there. They still don't answer the question that a CPU and a video card still have to go on a motherboard."

Kistler said his customers didn't care if it was another vendor's faulty board that brought down their AMD system -- they'd still see it as an "AMD problem" and that was a tough sell for him.

"So you've got a three-layer board with four capacitors that would pop with the first sign of lightning six counties away. Intel recognized 10 years ago that heat was going to be an issue. So they knew they had to make motherboards, because otherwise they couldn't control what happened and they'd be getting a lot of CPUs back. Intel realizes that they have to control the failure rate. And to control the failure rate, they have to control the motherboards," he said.