UPDATE: AMD announces Barcelona quad-core processor

Posted by Rick Hodgin, Wolfgang Gruener

Sunnyvale (CA) – AMD today announced what the company calls the "most advanced x86 processor) as well as the first "native quad-core processor". Code-named Barcelona, the quad-core Opteron will be shipping in server systems this month. The core technology of the new CPU will also surface in AMD's Phenom processor for desktop systems in December.

The new quad-core processor carries AMD's promise of the return of the firm's competitiveness in CPU performance. Like the original Opteron CPU in 2003, AMD introduces the core of the technology in the higher-margin server segment first with plans to extend it to the desktop within a few months. In a seven city event unfolding around the globe, AMD's native quad-core Barcelona will be put into action at up to 2.0 GHz on Socket 1207.  AMD will be hosting a special premiere launch event at 9:30pm EST tonight.

Barcelona debuts in nine versions today, five for dual-socket servers and four for systems with up to eight CPUs. For 2P systems are 2344 HE (1.7 GHz, 55W, $209), 2346 HE (1.8 GHz, 55W, $255), 2347 HE (1.9 GHz, 55W, $377), 2347 (1.9 GHz, 75W, $316) and 2350 (2.0 GHz, 75W, $389); The 8P versions are 8346 HE (1.8 GHz, 55W, $698), 8347 (1.9 GHz, 55W, $873) HE, 8347 (1.9 GHz, 75W, $786) and 8350 (2.0 GHz, 75W, $1019). Clock speeds higher than 2.3 GHz are expected for the fourth quarter of this year.

 

Model Clock Watts L2 Cache L3 Cache Price
8350 2.0 GHz 75W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $1019
8347 1.9 GHz 75W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $786
8347 HE 1.9 GHz 55W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $873
8346 HE 1.8 GHz 55W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $698
2350 2.0 GHz 75W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $389
2347 1.9 GHz 75W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $316
2347 HE 1.9 GHz 55W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $377
2346 HE 1.8 GHz 55W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $255
2344 HE 1.7 GHz 55W 4x 512 KB 2 MB $209

Red shows up to four processor (4P) configurations.  Green shows up to two (2P).  Note that maximum watts are reported as 95W and 68W, except for 2347 which is 89W.

 

According to AMD, the quad-core Barcelona CPU has a total of 463 million logic transistors. The die-size is 285 mm2.  AMD claims they will be drop-in compatible with existing Socket-F (1207 pin) motherboards with only a BIOS flash.  However, unless the existing motherboard supports AMD's new multi-plane power and clock distribution system called Dual Dynamic Power Management, then all cores will be locked at the same voltage and clock rates.

While AMD claims that Barcelona will provide performance advantages over dual-core Opteron processors of up to 67% (2 GHz quad-core vs. the old 3 GHz dual-core), and the new CPU will outpace Intel's quad-core Clovertown (Xeon 5345) CPU on certain benchmarks, the company focuses on the chip's energy efficiency during the introduction of the processor. There have been a scant few unofficial benchmarks popping up on the web prior to today's release.  Less than a handful, which is unusual.  And while AMD's multi-city event rides the "Performance Per Watt" claim the real story may be that the low clock speeds we're seeing at release.  AMD had originally planned to release Barcelona at speeds in the 2.3 - 2.6 GHz range.  Back in March, 2007 we were told a theoretical 2.6 GHz Barcelona would beat Intel's best quad-core Xeon offering by 42%.  But with a much lower clock speed at launch, and with 45 nm Harpertown Xeons just around the corner (Nov 11) from Intel, everyone is asking:  Will it be enough?

Many regular review websites were not even given Barcelona samples.  Many of those that were did not have adequate prep time to perform a wide range of benchmarks.  Some websites even had to go outside of normal AMD channels to obtain samples for their own benchmarks.  From all outward appearances, this product launch seems to be deliberately hampered by AMD's own hand more than anything else. For those websites which were able to get Barcelonas and have now published benchmarks the reason for the delay is apparent.  On most benchmarks, existing Intel products (65 nm products) are able to exceed Barcelona's performance with very few benchmarks showing up where Barcelona wins. 

On the performance benchmarks we've seen so far, WinRAR shows Barcelona's biggest win over Xeon with something around a 15% increase.  AMD's other wins typically come with small margins below 6%, and typically 2% or less in real-world benchmarks.  And in the cases where Barcelona lost, it often lost by 10% or more, sometimes even with previous generation Xeons.  In one test, Barcelona consumed 188 watts at idle and 299 watts max.  Intel's Xeon consumed 257 watts and 347.3 watts respectively.  AMD's website shows some cases where Barcelona is able to trounce its competition.  We'll be putting together an article today which shows a real-world analysis compared to AMD's in-house benchmarks.  Check back throughout the day for that article.
 

Power consumption is actually the only real area where we've seen notable wins.  Or if you value price over performance then AMD's offering could be seen as a win as well.

Instead of providing power numbers based on the generally used "thermal design power" (TDP)  rating, the company provides power consumption performance specifications for Barcelona based on ACP (Average CPU Power), a rating that AMD also introduced today. Rather than specifying the worst case scenario, the company told us that it is trying to provide a real world indication, how much power these CPUs will consume. While the HE versions of Barcelona have a TDP of 65W, AMD says that these processors will not consume more than 55W (ACP); the standard versions carry a TDP of 95W, but should not use more than 75W in real-world applications, AMD says.

Barcelona is AMD's first processor technology that has been ramped on 65 nm exclusively. While the company conceded that that there were production delays - but declined to provide any details – AMD said that the quad-core CPU production technology matured on just 1000 wafer starts in Fab 36 in Dresden, Germany. Barcelona's successor "Shanghai", a 45 nm version of the CPU, is scheduled for launch in the second half of next year. A completely new CPU ("Sandtiger") using the new Bulldozer core is expected to launch in 2009 – which appears to be a very ambitious plan, given the fact that the time-to-market for the quad-core Opteron processor was approximately 3 years.

Barcelona will be shipping this month, AMD said. First systems are scheduled to be available from HP, Dell, IBM, Sun as well as Appro, Egenera, Gateway, Rackable Systems, Supermicro and Verari.