AMD had a good year in 2005, with the launch of products that pulled it clear of Intel in terms of technology. This still leaves it way behind the Santa Clara giant in terms of revenues and market share, but the second player doesn't believe in giving up. We spoke to AMD's commercial solutions director, Margaret Lewis, to find out more about its plans.

Q: What are the highlights of 2005 for AMD?

A: There were quite a few highlights for us last year. The opening of Fab 36 was understandably a huge event for the company. AMD also claimed 10 per cent of the worldwide market share for x86 server processors, according to Gartner, as well as more than 20 per cent of the desktop processor market for the first time in years, according to Mercury Research. And last but not least, in 2005 AMD became the first microprocessor supplier to offer true dual-core technology, designed from the ground up for multi-core computing.

Q: Have Opteron sales figures met their targets – if not, to what do you attribute the disparity?

A: Customer response to the AMD Opteron processor has exceeded even our own high expectations. Today, 90 per cent of the top 100 and more than 45 per cent of the top 500 of the Forbes Global 2000 companies or their subsidiaries are using AMD64 technology. Recent additions include American International Group, Albertson’s, Clear Channel Communications and Nissan, among others.

Q: How many customers are currently running 64-bit applications on their Opteron boxes?

A: Customers who are doing computer and data intensive applications are the most likely candidates to be running 64-bit applications - this includes scientific and engineering customers and enterprise customers doing heavy data analysis. This is not necessarily the majority of Opteron users -- there is a larger number of customers who are using AMD Opteron to run their existing 32-bit applications, and getting the benefits of our direct connect architecture along with the flexibility of migrating to 64-bit apps as they need and want.

Q: Now that Intel’s 64-bit products have established themselves, what impact have you seen on the 64-bit processor market?

A: AMD has been longer established than the competition in this area as our Opteron processor was the first 32- and 64-bit product to market. Using the Opteron as an example again this product continues to gain market share as more and more customers move away from the competition’s products; which are seen as having both performance and power consumption issues. In addition the Athlon 64 processor has demonstrated superior benchmark results over the competition making it the performance leader in its class.

We'll continue to evolve the x86 architecture by adding features to the platform while harnessing the AMD64 technology advantage, which increases with the number of cores or the number of sockets.

Q: Do you see grid computing being an important area of investment for AMD in the near future? If not, why not?

A: Certainly, and AMD64 processor-based systems are seen as a key underlying technology for grid computing. We’re working closely with our hardware and software partners, including Oracle, Sun and IBM, who are promoting grid computing and developing the necessary infrastructure to make grid computing a success. .

Q: What’s the big event for AMD in 2006? Is it, for instance, a new product of yours, from Intel or from Microsoft?

A: I can only speak for AMD, but as with 2005, we expect 2006 to be another groundbreaking year. Many of our partners are currently expanding their AMD product offerings to offer their customers an even greater level of choice. We’ll also implement DDR2 and complete our transition to 65nm process technology.

Q: Data centre managers are having problems cooling their systems. What does AMD plan to do to help them achieve greater processing throughput while reducing overall costs (including the cost of air-conditioning)?

A: In response to customer feedback, AMD has continually focused on performance per watt efficiencies within our AMD Opteron processor product line as a way to address that issue. In April 2003, we announced a competitive 89W roadmap. In February 2004, we enhanced our capabilities and introduced the AMD Opteron processors HE (55W) and EE (30W) for servers and workstations. AMD PowerNow! technology will further enhance the power management of servers and workstations. AMD technology decreases the strain on data centre cooling and ventilation systems and, in doing so, we can reduce CPU power consumption by up to 75 percent during idle times.

Q: How do you see your ecosystem changing in the next year or so? Will we see Dell making any changes to its buying patterns, for instance?

A: Our ecosystems continue to grow as we see the rapid adoption of technologies that are directly addressed by our AMD64 technology with Direct Connect architecture. That’s becoming a key differentiator that puts AMD64 on top, and you will continue to see support from our strategic OEM partners in 2006 with expanded portfolios of AMD64-technology based products. In terms of Dell, you’ll have to ask them.

Q: Do you see the central thrust of AMD’s development effort changing in the foreseeable future? That is, are we talking about increasing numbers of cores on a single die being the main avenue for performance improvements?

A: The general thrust of our development efforts is working well so far; multi-core AMD64 is quite a powerful combination. Aside from core count alone – which can have a dramatic impact on the performance of each processor -- AMD has engineered such innovations as the Direct Connect Architecture, reducing memory latency. AMD clearly holds the performance crown -- our AMD64 platform has earned more than 160 global industry awards since introduction.

Q: If you could have done anything differently in the last year, what would it be with respect to enterprise computing?

A: I think we hit 2005 right on the head in that we identified early in the AMD64 development process that server virtualisation would likely become an important component of enterprise IT strategy. AMD accordingly has provided enhancements to the AMD64 micro-architecture to allow more efficient virtualisation in the 64-bit computing market and we’ll continue to do so. That is an example of how the fact that we continuously partner with and listen to our customers helps AMD not only better anticipate future needs, it also helps us enable solutions for our customers when they need them.