TAIPEI, Taiwan After several months of hyping the performance of its 64-bit Hammer chips in multiprocessor servers, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. acknowledged Monday (June 3) the assessment of an e-mail circulated last week that said early performance results don't look good.
During its first demo of a four-way multiprocessing server at Taiwan's Computex trade show, AMD officials tried to pooh-pooh the damage done by an inadvertent e-mail sent last week describing the Hammer's performance as poor. In the company e-mail, an unattributed passage said: "The demos we're currently showing are anything but high-performance. They're pretty low-performance right now and we don't want to invite questions about just how fast they are running."
On Monday, after once again extolling the future benefits of the Hammer, now officially named Opteron, an AMD executive stressed that the chip's hardware is running well but that many tweaks must still be made to the BIOS and operating system to optimize performance. "The multiprocessing systems today have lots of knobs and lots of dials and it really takes a lot to get them to perform well," said Richard Heye, vice president of platform engineering and infrastructure at AMD (Sunnyvale, Calif.).
"We're in the early processes of tuning," Heye said. "If I give you performance data right now, I would have to give you two pages of caveats. If I give you the machine right now, you'd say the performance isn't that great. I'd have to say here's why it's not that great and we just want to avoid that whole conversation."
AMD has already shown single- and dual-processor configurations of the eighth-generation processor, which can run X86 instruction sets for new 64-bit applications as well as today's standard 32-bit applications. Rival Intel Corp's initial approach with its 64-bit processor was to implement a pure 64-bit architecture without legacy support. But Intel's 64-bit Itanium processors can emulate 32-bit processing.
The outside take
OEM engineers and analysts downplayed reports of performance issues with AMD's Hammer processors, saying it's too early in the development cycle to accurately gauge the chip's capabilities.
"I wouldn't worry too much about any early performance specs as long as they can hit their design goals," said one OEM engineer who asked not to be named. "A lot of signals on the die are probably not optimized yet. They just wanted to show something working," he said.
"At this stage of the game they are still close to six months before releasing the product and there is still time to work on speed paths or any other issues they may be encountering," said Kevin Krewell, analyst with In-Stat/MDR. Krewell noted Intel took a beating when a Web reviewer got his hands on an early Pentium II system and trashed it for poor performance, but the chip was released three months later with significantly more muscle.
"Early pre-production parts often have parts disabled so other parts can be tested and don't have their critical paths optimized for speed. And AMD is not likely to send the best wafers to the show in Taiwan right now," added Krewell.
AMD has said the Hammer will be its first processor to hit 2 GHz. Unconfirmed Web reports said the current part topped out at 800 MHz.
AMD gave private showings of its initial Claw Hammer processor booting an operating system for the first time in February off site of the Intel Developer Forum. That CPU, geared for single- and dual-processor configurations, is not expected to ship until late this year. A more muscular version capable of supporting four and eight-way processors will follow in mid-2003.
AMD has taken the approach of extending the native 32-bit X86 architecture with 64-bit capabilities. Intel's Itanium, by contrast, executes a new 64-bit instruction set architecture, with on-chip support for emulation of the 32-bit X86 instruction set.
Intel has taken nearly a decade to move the underlying Itanium architecture, initially defined by Hewlett-Packard out of the lab. The first-generation Itanium, code-named Merced, fell short of integer performance expectations and as few as 2,000 systems were sold as of late last year.
The problems associated with introducing and scaling 64-bit architectures are not new. Intel faced difficulty when developing the Itanium, which suffered repeated delays and spawned plenty of doubt. In the past, AMD's chairman and then chief executive officer W.J. Sanders III vilified the Itanium and promised that AMD's offering would be the choice of workstation and server designers.
That remains to be seen. AMD plans to ship the Opteron in the first half of 2003. Despite the lackluster early results, AMD's vice president of worldwide sales, Henri Richard, said, "The customers that we've engaged are awaiting the current solution and are happy with what they've seen so far and are encouraged to continue their evolution. That's all I'm concerned about."