AMD details next-gen architecture for 16-core server chips

The upcoming 16-core Interlagos server chip will perform up to 50 percent faster than chips based on earlier architectures

Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday shared details about its next-generation chip architecture code-named Bulldozer, which will form the basis for its upcoming 16-core server processors.

Processors based on Bulldozer will include more cores and perform up to 50 percent faster than chips based on earlier architectures, said Dina McKinney, vice president of design engineering at AMD. The new design squeezes out more performance by bringing flexibility to the way tasks are executed across processor cores.

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Bulldozer processors will go into computers ranging from servers to desktops and laptops, McKinney said. The first chips are expected to be server processors code-named Interlagos, which will have between 12 and 16 cores and are scheduled for release next year.

Chip designers like Intel and AMD have traditionally boosted processor performance by adding cores, cranking up clock speeds, or by improving threading capabilities. A new element in the Bulldozer CPU architecture is the ability to improve performance by pairing execution cores and sharing them with components inside a CPU.

The architecture scales performance by sharing components like the floating point unit between two processing cores, which provides a wider pipe to execute more operations per clock cycle, McKinney said.

The dedicated cores are primarily for the most common tasks, while shared components like the floating point unit are used only when needed. Chips are smaller as they require fewer components, and the execution efficiency results in power savings.

AMD has benchmarked a 50 percent performance improvement in Bulldozer chips in the same power profile as current 12-core Opteron chips code-named Magny Cours, McKinney said.

In the past, chip makers focused chip development around raw processor performance, but times are changing, said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat.

Chips are now being designed to meet the demands of new computing environments surrounding applications like databases or Web services, McGregor said. Applications have differing hardware requirements, like better floating point performance or more memory bandwidth.

The new chips will help AMD expand its server offerings to new markets and keep the company competitive with Intel, which dominates the server processor market.

"How well are they going to do against Intel? That's hard to tell," McGregor said.

Intel held 93.5 percent of the server processor market during the second quarter, while AMD's share was 6.5 percent, according to a study last week by IDC.

But server makers also love to work with AMD, so the new chips should find adoption, McGregor said.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and IBM all offer servers with AMD's Opteron processors. The companies did not immediately respond to request for comment on AMD's Bulldozer microarchitecture.

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