A successful Barcelona launch, expected to happen during the third quarter, is critical for AMD, which has seen its share of the server market battered in recent quarters by Intel. Those market-share losses came with a heavy price, dragging AMD's finances into the red. In April, the company announced a $611 million loss, largely attributed to tougher competition and a price war with Intel.
To stem these losses, AMD has cut discretionary spending but executives are counting on Barcelona to restore the company's financial health and turn the tables on its rival.
Kevin Knox, the vice president of AMD's commercial business, recently discussed preparations for Barcelona's upcoming launch.
Q: Where do things currently stand with Barcelona? A: We're still on target for a mid-year launch with Barcelona. We're actually pretty excited about the product, particularly with respect to some of the features that we're going to enable. When we started out with Barcelona, it had a certain feature set. From the time we started out, from the design perspective, the aspects we're going to address, things like virtualisation and power, have become more important to the industry. We think its going to have a bigger impact than we originally anticipated.
Q: Is Barcelona going to reverse AMD's recent losses in server market share? A: I firmly believe it will. A lot of that has to do with this not being just a speed upgrade. If it was just a speed upgrade ... it's a lot more challenging at any point in time to get an advantage and maintain that advantage.
Barcelona is not just a quad-core chip, it's more than quad core. We've made fundamental, significant changes to the architecture as part of the chip. We looked at the overall design, at the cache and the pipelines, so it's a lot more than just taking two dual-core chips and saying it's quad core. It's a true, native quad-core design with enhancements at the processor level.
Q: How do you view comparisons between Barcelona and Intel's quad-core server chips? A: If you look at the two products, they're very different products. If you go back many years, when we designed Opteron, Opteron was designed for multi-chip, multi-core environments. When we went from single core to dual core, it wasn't a big thing for us. When we went from dual core to quad core, the reason this has taken a little longer is we made some enhancements to the core, not because going to four cores was the major challenge. What we've focused on is doing enhancements to the core and doing virtualisation.
This is probably a larger and more important launch than you've seen in the past. There's a lot riding on the ecosystem, the [independent software vendors] and hardware vendors, to make sure we have all the pieces in a line so when we do launch we can have pretty quick uptake.
Q: How much work has been done to seed the market for Barcelona? Has AMD shipped sample systems to major customers so they can test their applications? A: Yes, we're starting to get some samples to customers as seeds. You definitely need to have seed programs. They're critical. People want to kick the tyres, especially with something as significant as the move from dual core to quad core, and the enhancements we've made. We're going to have a larger seed program than we've ever had before on the server side. Part of that's because there's some new stuff, and part of that's because it's a pretty competitive market right now.
Frankly, there are some accounts you have to seed. Whenever new technology comes out, you've got to let the Wall Street guys try it out. And it's not just the end-user community. There's a whole [independent software vendor] aspect to it as well. They've got to get ready. You've got to get the hardware manufacturers in Taiwan ready.
Q: What does the launch of Barcelona mean? When the launch happens next quarter, will the chips be widely available in large quantities? A: That's what we're going through now. Our plan is not to have a paper launch. We want to do a launch with a product.
Q: With large numbers of Barcelona servers available for sale? A: Right. And given what's been going on in the market, it's extremely critical that people understand that. We have had a number of launches in the past, I'll point to Intel's Clovertown launch as an example. They launched Clovertown, and I think it was less than 10 percent of their product mix two quarters later. That says to me it wasn't really a quick ramp; product wasn't readily available. Our goal here is to get Barcelona out and get it into the market as quickly as possible.