Hammer swings at McKinley

SAN FRANCISCO — Intel is spending a lot of effort this week to build up support within the development community for its processors, but rival Advanced Micro Devices is working just as hard

to steal the show.

Bob Rivet, AMD’s senior vice-president and CFO, took the podium Wednesday at the Robertson Stephens technology conference at the Palace Hotel, just a few blocks away from the Moscone Center where Intel has gathered approximately 4,000 developers for IDF 2002. Rivet spent the morning describing to an audience of financial analysts and investment bankers the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based firm’s desktop and server strategies, as well as its plans for the mobile computing segment.

“”We are not a follower. We’re a leader,”” Rivet said, projecting charts that showed AMD’s increasing unit market share across the United States and Europe. “”I could show you a slide for every region and the story (of our growth) would be the same thing. This is not a one customer market segment issue.””

Rivet spent much of his time discussing the eighth generation “”Hammer”” products AMD will begin releasing in the second half of this year. This includes the Clawhammer for the desktop segment, where AMD will compete against Intel’s Pentium 4 line, and Sledgehammer, a 64-bit x86 offering that will go up against Intel’s McKinley processor from the Itanium series of chips.

“”We only got into the server market in the last half of last year,”” Rivet admitted. “”However Hammer is here and we are demonstrating real silicon as we speak.””

AMD said Tuesday it was conducting demonstrations of the server chips in meetings in San Francisco. The processor will conform to what Rivet called AMD’s “”Immutable Laws”” of computing transitions: that new products must cost less and offer equal or better performance than their predecessors, and that they support legacy equipment and applications.

Sledgehammer will have some catching up to do on McKinley, however, given that it is not scheduled to appear until sometime in 2003, whereas the Intel product is shipping in the second half of this year. Even Intel is preparing for a tough competitive battle, but not with AMD: the firm is trying to reach the higher end of the server market where Sun Microsystems and IBM have traditionally dominated.

Lisa Hambrick, marketing director for Intel’s enterprise computing group, said the company has six high-end processors under development right now, and a few pilots of the McKinley chip have been underway since last December. One of these is a financial trading company that has ported to Itanium from Sun products to deal with the US$60 billion in transactions it processes a day. “”So far, they’re looking at a 2X performance improvement,”” she said. “”And that’s without software recompilation.””

Rivet said both Clawhammer and Sledgehammer would feature an integrated memory controller that could boost memory performance by 20 per cent. Other features will push that boost up to 40 per cent, he added. “”So who’s outperforming who?””

Eric Rothdeautsch, Robertson Stephens’ semiconductor analyst, said AMD had been invited to speak because it is establishing a good reputation in the processor industry. “”We think they’re got a really competitive product,”” he said. “”They are significantly farther ahead on their roadmap than expected.””

Back at IDF, Intel vice-president and general manager of the mobile platforms group Anand Chandrasekher said the Pentium 4 would be moving down into the thin and light category, which he described as the “”sweet spot”” of the market. Rivet said essentially the same thing, adding at AMD plans to offer a chip of its own for that space in the near future.

IDF 2002 runs through Thursday.

Comment: info@plesman.com

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