AMD to join Intel in chip advance

Times Staff Writer

Advanced Micro Devices Inc., the underdog chip maker, today plans to introduce powerful microchips that feature four cores, or processing brains, on one piece of silicon.

Known as “quad-core,” the technology boosts the speed of computer servers and workstations and uses energy more efficiently than previous chips.

AMD plans to incorporate the processor, which it has called Barcelona internally, into its Opteron line of chips for data centers. Filmmaker George Lucas’ production company, Lucasfilm Ltd., is among the first customers.


Barcelona’s arrival marks a pivotal point in AMD’s struggle to win customers from Intel Corp. in the lucrative market for chips that power servers and workstations. The Opteron line, introduced in 2003, has targeted Intel’s supremacy in that market.

But analysts say Barcelona is arriving more than two months after Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD said it would, and nearly a year after Intel introduced a quad-core version of its Xeon processor. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant sells 20 quad-core processors for servers and high-end desktop computers and last week announced new versions.

So rather than continuing to gain on Intel, AMD saw its share of the global Intel-architecture server market shrink slightly recently. It slipped from 15% in the second quarter of 2006 to 14% a year later, according to research firm IDC. Intel’s share rose from 85% to 86%.

Intel and AMD have taken different approaches to the quad-core processor, said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow at consulting firm Insight 64. Although Intel started selling earlier by using a quicker technical solution, he said, AMD redesigned its chips so that the four cores communicate, which it says improves performance.

Intel has profited as the only purveyor of quad-core processors, Brookwood said. “This will be a big step forward for AMD because they now have a shot. This is AMD’s chance to get back into the game.”

Despite Intel’s head start, AMD says it makes a better chip. “We think we’ll overtake them,” said Steve Demski, AMD’s Opteron product manager.

Lucasfilm, which already uses servers that run on AMD chips, plans to upgrade its data center servers in San Francisco and Singapore with the new quad-core processors, the chip maker said. Those servers are used in the making of movies and special effects.

AMD expects to launch Phenom, a quad-core processor for desktop computers, in December.