Ahead of its most significant processor redesign since 2003, AMD is talking about its Bulldozer and Bobcat architectures, both of which are expected in 2011. Will AMD be able to catch up, or even surpass Intel's lead? The future looks interesting, indeed.
Seven years have passed since AMD first launched its K8 “Hammer” microarchitecture, which was updated three years ago by K10. Brand new, the Athlon 64 processors based on K8 kicked ass and took names, flying past Intel’s Pentium 4 processors to become enthusiast favorites.
But the performance landscape changes quickly, and Intel is notorious for feverish comebacks when it’s in second position. The company’s Core microarchitecture shifted favor back toward Intel in 2006, and that is where it has remained for the past four years.
Sure, AMD still sells attractive CPUs. Its Athlon II lineup consistently headlines our monthly Best Gaming CPUs For The Money column, thanks to respectable performance and entry-level pricing. The dual-core Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition is unbeatable under $100. And AMD’s Thuban-based offerings actually make hexa-core computing viable under $200.
Clock-for-clock, though, nobody will deny that AMD’s portfolio trails Intel’s. And Intel, as always, has a sizable manufacturing technology advantage with its newest chips centering on a 32 nm process. Meanwhile, AMD is forced to engineer its six-core CPUs into a 130 W TDP using 45 nm lithography.
Heavy Machinery Is On The Way
AMD hopes that its K10 design won’t have to stave off Intel’s Westmere microarchitecture for long, though. Last year, at one of its Financial Analyst Days, AMD gave a first look at the “modules” that will come to define how its next-generation processors will be put together. Though detail was sparse, company representatives made it clear that this is the most significant redesign seen since K8.
We already know that there will be two x86 cores based on this new architecture, each facilitating competitive functionality in a handful of different markets. Bulldozer is intended for deployment in everything from mainstream clients (including desktops and notebooks) to servers. Bobcat is supposed to be the more flexible design, enabling the low power and small dies needed in netbooks and cloud-optimized clients.
Bear in mind that, as with any generational leap, there are a number of new internally-referenced names to keep straight. AMD is really only discussing Bulldozer and Bobcat at Hot Chips 22 (the IEEE-sponsored symposium on performance processors). However, it’s probably worth going into a little more depth on where you’ll see these CPU designs crop up, if only to prevent code-name confusion. If you're a little lost on the nomenclature, use the last page of this piece as a reference to AMD's plans for 2011.