Power vs. speed -- AMD goes after Intel

Earlier this year, AMD beat Intel to the market with its dual-core chip, which it claims has a better performance-per-watt ratio than Intel's planned dual-core. Now that AMD has shifted the battleground from processing speed to efficiency, will Intel fight back?

Against the backdrop of an antitrust lawsuit claiming Intel attempted to lock server manufacturers into buying only its chips, Advanced Micro Devices turned the screws on its bitter rival even tighter by publicly challenging Intel to a dual-core dual in a public performance evaluation.

But beneath the court battles and processor challenges rests a pair of debates much more critical to the x86 chip market: the battle over more efficient power consumption versus processing speed, and the question of where AMD stands in relation to Intel, the long-standing market leader, after beating it to the punch in the dual-core x86 server chip race.

Dual and multi-core processors use an integrated circuit (IC) to which two or more processors have been attached for enhanced performance, reduced power consumption and more efficient simultaneous processing of multiple tasks.

AMD claims that because its dual-core Opteron chips, which it released in April, use less power than the as-yet-to-be-released corresponding Intel offering, data centers that choose AMD-based equipment will save a significant amount of money in energy usage. For data centers grappling with cooling concerns that have pushed their energy use to the limit both physically and financially, such a savings could represent a major boon.

Intel, which has traditionally focused more on processing speed, has countered with its intentions of servicing every segment of the x86 market -- many of which require the increased power the Intel Xeon dual-core chip is planning to provide -- with a much wider spectrum of products than what AMD can bring to the table.

According to Gordon Haff, an analyst with the Nashua, N.H.-based research firm Illuminata, the real answer to the power versus speed debate lies somewhere in the middle.

"Over time, the performance-per-watt [equation] is becoming increasingly important," Haff said. "Its power is relative to performance as opposed to raw power or lowest power consumption."

Comparing the true merits of each vendor's x86 dual-core chips is currently impossible because Intel has yet to release its product. But AMD's proactive approach has forced Intel to respond. The company recently announced plans to speed up the release of its first batch of dual-core x86 server chips from early 2006 to late 2005, leaving many in the industry to wonder if Intel is rushing them out the door. At the very least, AMD scored a major win over Intel in the realm of public perception, and it is now trying to build off that momentum by claiming that it has the best performance-per-watt story in the industry.

For more information:

AMD releases dual-core Opteron processors

IDC: Multi-core chips to disrupt software pricing by 2007

"We feel pretty confident in our product line," said AMD Opteron product marketing manager Brent Kerby of his company's publicity push. "Intel has been talking aggressively about their products, and now that they've stated their plans … we're trying to break through all the hype and [say] 'Let's see who has the best product to serve our customers.'"

Intel, like AMD, views dual-core chips as a major trend that will have a significant impact on the IT industry both in the near and not-so-near future. It has since promised to roll out a significant amount of dual-core technology between now and the end of 2006 that it says will overshadow anything AMD has to offer, though it has yet to offer any specifics about how it plans to get there.

For its part, Intel refused to even acknowledge AMD's challenge, preferring to take the high road often afforded to those who rule the roost.

"We're not going to get caught up in a battle with a particular vendor," said Intel enterprise marketing director Shannon Poulin. "We'll fight it at the customer level."

Haff credits AMD's Opteron line with pushing the vendor into the mainstream enterprise market, dubbing the technology one that "changed the field of battle" and gave the company a foothold it has so far strengthened by taking the lead in the dual-core space. But, he said, by moving so aggressively toward taking the dual-core lead, AMD has forced Intel to do everything in its power to restore the old pecking order.

Should Intel succeed, Haff said it will put AMD back to where it was before this whole mess got started, as a much smaller, much less profitable company.

"They woke up the sleeping lion," Haff said. "If I were AMD, I'd be looking at where Intel is going and be more than a little concerned. Intel is well on its way to bridging its major deficiencies. … Intel is moving fairly quickly and aggressively toward to closing any gaps it has with AMD, and then AMD is back to competing more or less on a level playing field. And that's where Intel has a big advantage."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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