About a Golden October and Autumn Leaves

Andreas Stiller

(Translation of the German original in c't by Marcel Sieslack)

It's an old tradition: Where Intel shows off its products and roadmaps, AMD is not far off. At the IDF, Intel could boast the new Haswell processor – but its launch is still nine months away. AMD intends to crank it up right away.

For years, AMD has been putting up camp in the uppermost story of the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, located about 200 meters from the Moscone Center, during the Intel Developer Forum, to lure the visiting developers and journalists away. Sometimes, AMD only has vague announcements to offer, but at other times, there are real highlights, like when they first presented the Opteron. Meanwhile, however, Intel has turned the tables, holding a conference parallel to AMD's Fusion conference in Beauville, near Seattle.

This time, AMD could show off quite a portfolio of products that aren't far off, all of them scheduled to launch in the course of October. The first to come out will be the desktop versions of the Trinity processor, the specifications of which have long made their way through all of the media. AMD openly admitted that the chips have been ready for quite some time and that they have been held back with consideration to the clearance sale of the old Llano processors.

Naturally, the technology demonstrations – on which one is allowed to report, but without going into detail concerning the chips' specifications – employed the usual benchmarks that, like Photoshop Gaussian Blur, make the similarly priced competitor chip Ivy Bridge look rather pale in comparison because they make use of the GPU. Typically, Ivy Bridge has the upper hand with CPU-intensive workloads though. But also OpenCL 1.2 is starting to come into fashion (e.g. with Gimp), which shows that there is a gradual transition in favor of the GPU – and this is playing into AMD's hands.

But AMD isn't expecting its strongest markets to be in the desktop PC sector anymore anyway. Instead, it's counting on Windows tablets, a market that the IDC predicts will increase by a factor of 4 in 2013 in comparison to 2012. And here, AMD can pit its energy-saving Z-60 duo-core APU against Intel's Atom. This APU, codenamed Hondo, is a slightly revised version of the Z-01 (Desna) and is supposed to run on less than 5 watts. It will be produced with the same reliable 40-nm bulk technology as the Z-01.

The launch of AMD's Brazos-T platform with Z-60 APU, the counterpart to Intel's shortly expected Clover Trail, is planned for mid-October. Like Clover Trail, this platform is designated for tablets and convertibles and, for now, also only for Windows 8. AMD wasn't able to get their hands on a comparative system with Clover Trail yet – apparently the relationship with Lenovo suffered when AMD poached company boss Rory Read from there. In any case, Lenovo had already presented Clover Trail tablets at IFA. And so, the slow Oak Trail or Cedar Trail tablets from Fujitsu had to be used for a comparison. Against these single-core chips, the two Bobcat cores of the Hondo platform could easily hold their ground. Supposedly, their launch will coincide with the release of a Hondo tablet from an important partner whose name AMD didn't want to reveal to us just yet. Rumors of tablet prices below 500 dollars are spreading.

One of the features of Windows 8 that is often highlighted is the connected standby. It works with Intel's Clover Trail, but AMD didn't manage to get it working. As an alternative, AMD is advertising "Start Now", which supposedly manages booting in 25 seconds and waking up from standby, including internet connectivity, in only two seconds.

Anyway, Microsoft's connected standby shouldn't be overrated, because it's also possible to keep up with your social net contacts and load new messages or virus signatures in a sufficiently energy-saving and more or less up-to-date manner without this technology, without special push servers, metro applications or metro governors. Intel proves as much with the smart connect technology for ultrabooks. Besides, it should also be possible to achieve a similar effect through occasional wake-ups with the Windows task planer.

Departures and Stock Prices

The FX processors with Piledriver cores for high-end desktop PCs – codenamed Vishera, with four, six or eight cores, as already mentioned in the last Whispers – are scheduled to finally make their debut later in October. In the new Cinebench R13 (still in beta) or Wprime V2.09, the Visheras have already shown their computing prowess in comparison to their predecessor Zambezi, while the water-cooling allowed them to reach up to 5GHz. Well, what a Cinebench R13 value of, for instance, 9.06 actually means, remains unclear until we have access to this benchmark and further reference values.

There's also news from the server sector. AMD's subsidiary SeaMicro presented its Opteron blades for microservers on the day before the IDF started. The system can now simultaneously be equipped with Atom, Ivy Bridge and Opteron processors – and, in the future, maybe even with ARMs. The SM15000 demonstration model was still equipped with Bulldozer, but it's supposed to roll out with the new Piledriver chips in November, with the single-socket version Seoul for the C32 socket. And SeaMicro boss Andrew Feldman promised that AMD intends to also release the larger brothers, Delhi and Abu Dhabi, before the year is over.

Thomas Seifert, AMD's CFO and former interim CEO, won't be experiencing this exciting October at the company. When the cool-headed business expert learned of Intel's Haswell processor, he decided to throw in the towel – or, at least, one could maliciously make that assumption. Be that as it may, he will only stay until the end of September, to show his interim successor Devinder Kumar the ropes. It's said that Seifert is going back to his ex-company Siemens. AMD's stock price had just recovered a little after the SeaMicro announcement, just to plummet again when news of Seifert's departure emerged. However, things don't look much brighter with competitor Nvidia. Here, the financial department has been headed by an interim executive for one and a half year. And now, news comes that the well-known head of Nvidia's mobile branch, Mike Rayfield, has recently resigned. Where "Mr. Tegra" is headed, remains to be seen. In the past, he had spent quite some time at Texas Instruments and had also worked at Cisco. Qualcomm would seem likely – but they already got the former head of Intel's mobile branch.

With a beta version of Maxon's Cinebench R13, AMD demonstrated the performance of the Piledriver cores in the upcoming Vishera processor.

Current rating: 4