AMD Cops to Plans for Dual-Core Chip
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
As many people expected, Advanced Micro Devices this week announced that it will indeed be developing dual-core versions of its 64-bit Opteron processors for servers and workstations as well as its Athlon64 chips for high-end desktop PCs. Adding cores instead of cranking clock speeds is suddenly the rage in the chip business because power and heat issues that come with speeding up a chip to double performance are less of a problem if you double performance by putting two cores on a chip.
Trying to be clever, AMD says that it not only has completed the designs on these dual-core "SledgeHammer" and "ClawHammer" processors, but that in fact it has been secretly designing such chips for years. (Surprise! Well, no. Not really.) The company says that the original Opteron announcements in 1999 indicated that the chip design would allow for multiple cores to be glued together on a single piece of silicon, so we shouldn't be surprised. (See?) AMD has been waiting for its 90 nanometer chip making processes to ramp up as well as software to take advantage of these multiple-core processors to become available before it made its commitment to dual-cores public.
According to a statement released by AMD, the company will now deliver dual-core Opterons in mid-2005, with dual-core Athlon64s due in the second half of 2005. This puts AMD on par with Intel, which recently rejiggered its Xeon roadmaps to focus on dual-core processors. Intel is expected to get its dual core "Tulsa" Xeon MP processor to market in mid-2005. Last month, Intel redrew its roadmaps and said a kicker to the soon-to-be-announced "Nocona" Xeon DP, Intel's first 64-bit Xeon, is expected before the end of 2005 with two cores per chip; this chip has not yet been given a code-name. The company promised to have dual-core, 64-bit Xeon chips for desktops, workstations, and servers to market by the end of 2005.
For AMD, the transition to multiple cores will occur as AMD moves from the 90 nanometer processes it is just now bringing online in its Dresden Fab 30 with a new 65 nanometer process that is expected to be ready in mid-2005 in Fab 36. But don't get the wrong idea: The move to dual-core chips is not dependent on that 65 nanometer process. These are two separate developments. The dual-core Opterons and Athlon64s will be initially created using the 90 nanometer SOI/low-k process used in Fab 30 in Dresden, in fact.
The so-called SledgeHammer-III processors, which are expected to start shipping in mid-2005 and ramp up through the second half of that year, are the dual-core AMD chips. These third generation Opterons go by the code names of "Denmark" (100 Series), "Italy" (200 Series), and "Egypt" (800 Series). On the desktop, the "Toledo" chip is the dual-core variant of the Athlon64 FX chip. According to company sources, the Opteron processors were created to support even more cores, if the company and its platform partners decide it needs to. So four-core chips could happen in the 65 nanometer timeframe, too.
The 2004 Opteron lineup hasn't changed, by the way. The SledgeHammer-II processors will come in three flavors, just like the current Opterons. The "Venus" version of these chips will be branded as the 100 Series and will be available in regular and low-power versions for uniprocessor machines. The "Troy" version of this chip will be sold as the 200 Series for two-way capable servers, available in regular and low-power versions. The "Athens" variant is a future 800 Series SledgeHammer-II chip for four-way and eight-way machines. These chips will all use the 90 nanometer SOI process, and will come in full- and low-power versions.