The last time we had a turn around like this was when NVIDIA launched the GeForce FX. NVIDIA gave us a weekend, Superbowl Weekend to be exact, to review its latest GPU back in 2003. History was bound to repeat itself, and this time it was AMD keeping us occupied all weekend.

We got a call earlier in the week asking if we'd be able to turn around a review of AMD's Barcelona processor for Monday if we received hardware on Saturday. Naturally we didn't decline, and as we were secretly working on a Barcelona preview already, AMD's timing was impeccable.


What we've been waiting for

AMD shipped us a pair of 2U servers a day early, we actually got them on Friday but being in Denver at CEDIA we couldn't begin testing until Saturday. Luckily, Johan had Barcelona in Europe for over a week by this point and was already hard at work on server benchmarks. I augmented Johan's numbers with some additional results on these servers, but I had other plans in mind for the Barcelona system that AMD was sending me.


We went from no Barcelona, to fist-fulls of Barcelona in one weekend

You see, we've known for a while that Barcelona was going to do well for AMD on the server side. AMD is far more competitive there than in the desktop market, mostly thanks to its Direct Connect architecture, something Intel won't be able to duplicate until the end of 2008 with Nehalem. Barcelona will improve clock-for-clock performance over Opteron and is a drop in replacement for Socket-1207 servers with nothing more than a BIOS update; the Enterprise world couldn't be happier.

Things are different on the desktop; AMD hasn't been competitive since the launch of Core 2 in the Summer of 2006 and we're very worried that even after Phenom's late-year launch, the market still won't be competitive. While that's great for consumers today, the concern is that a non-competive AMD will bring about a more complacent Intel, which we do not want. We want the hungry Intel that we've enjoyed for the past year, we want ridiculous performance and aggressive pricing, and we won't get that without an AMD that can fight.

But AMD won't tell us anything about how Phenom will perform, other than that it will be competitive with Conroe/Kentsfield. So the goal here today is to get an idea of exactly how much faster Barcelona (the same core that'll be in Phenom X4) will be compared to the Athlon 64 X2.

We'll have more Barcelona server content coming as we spend more time with the system, but be sure to check out Johan's coverage to get a good idea of how Barcelona will compete in its intended market. If you're not familiar with Barcelona/Phenom architecture, or if you're confused as to exactly what Phenom is here's some required reading before proceeding.

2.0GHz Today, 2.5GHz Tomorrow
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  • MadBoris - Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - link

    Good catch, thx. Even though I said 'lower is better', I swapped it in my mind.
    So K10 looks much worse than K8 single core in that test.
    I wonder where that penalty comes from and if it will pronounced in other apps.
    Reply
  • Visual - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    I have a question about RAM types. Are the slots different for normal unregistered DDR2, registered DDR2, and FBDIMM DDR2?

    If any of those are the same slots, what happens if you mess up and put the wrong type?

    And I also have a suggestion for you Anand. Try testing with ASUS L1N64-SLI WS motherboard. It is originally for the QuadFX line of processors from AMD, but apparently the old K8 socket-f opterons work just fine in it, with unregistered DDR2. I assume the newer Barcelona opterons will too.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    Good preview Anand...
    Nice closing summary that put's it in a nutshell.

    Too bad you couldn't drop a q6600 into that socket instead of just a k10 for a comparison that we all are looking forward to. ;)
    Considering it isn't coming to desktop for a while, no biggie, it will be compared when it matters.

    What is the huge deal in AMD not being able to get to high frequencies, I don't understand?
    3ghz was in range many years ago for Intel, AMD still has difficulty getting parts out at 3Ghz. I lack the understanding if it's just manufacturing limits/costs or is it more due to their architecture limitations (interconnects and such).

    quote:

    The trouble for AMD this time around is that Phenom is a much larger chip than the outgoing Athlon 64 X2, whereas Intel's Penryn family will actually be smaller than Conroe. AMD is already losing a considerable amount of money each quarter, so fabbing a larger chip at the same price as current CPUs will only make the situation worse. However, Intel can afford to continue to keep its processors as aggressively priced, especially moving to 45nm.

    To put it plainly: Phenom/Barcelona make this price war more difficult on AMD, while Penryn makes it easier on Intel. What's the end game? Is there a solution?


    This is the part that is really scarry. Intel who had profits in the 5bil range last quarter, can literally drive AMD into the ground by outpricing and outperforming them. Even if Intel decides to start losing money with a hugely aggressive price/performance ratio that is hard to pass up, AMD would not be able to withstand that onslaught for long...Question is does Intel have the blood lust to ring the death knoll once and for all and try to drive them into the ground. The saving grace here really is the high end server market with 2 and 4 socket configurations(8,16 cores) where Barcelona will stretch it's legs over Intel.
    I hope for the best!
    Reply
  • Cybercat - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    Intel could do that, but they're not going to. AMD has to stay in business, because Intel can't afford to become a monopoly. However, Intel doesn't have a problem putting AMD on life support.

    It's a scary time for AMD.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    Hehe, good point. War of attrition. Break down their supply lines and lower their profits in such a way that they can't afford to do extensive R&D to innovate technology. Keeps them hobbling near by, but not as dangerously competitive.
    Intel can even make themselves "appear" more superior as a company by comparison to their runner up, and yet all the while they are innovating at the same pace they always were and not all that better, just have the appearance of greater superiority.
    Sun TechTzu, the art of silicon business. ;)
    Reply
  • Regs - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    You might just shoot yourself in the foot if and when AMD brings out the Sledgehammer. Reply
  • leexgx - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    thay did it was an K8 for 3 years but then Core2 came with its Sledgehammer

    taken AMD to long to bring there new cpu out
    Reply
  • jones377 - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    I compared the performance scaling between Barcelona and Core 2 Quad where Anandtech has run the same benchmarks. The C2Q results are taken from http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/intel/showdoc...">this review:

    The CPUs used are Barcelona @2GHz, @2.5GHz and Q6600@2.4Ghz, QX6850@3GHz. Both increasing the frequency by 25%. Only a few benchmarks were common between both. The gaming benchmarks for example were run at 1024*768 for Barcelona and 1600*1200 for C2Q so those can't be compared.

    Barcelona 2GHz to 2.5GHz:

    14.7% - Sysmark 2007
    23.4% - WME
    14.5% - iTunes
    21.2% - 3dsmax R9 SPECapc
    19.4% - Lightwave 3D


    Q6600@2.4GHz to QX6850@3GHz:

    15.2% - Sysmark 2007
    23.7% - WME
    21.5% - iTunes
    23.5% - 3dsmax R9 SPECapc
    21.3%/24.1% - Lightwave 3D - 2 different runs

    It should be noted that QX6850 runs at a higher FSB than Q6600 but this can't be helped. It's the best numbers I could find.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    Interesting strictly from a CPU scaling perspective. It's good to consider them all as an average lump, as some of that code is likely "Intellified", like Itunes.
    I was hoping to see a bigger advantage in scaling due to the AMD architecture, scaling doesn't appear like it is going to be "too much" better over Intel though.
    Reply
  • flyck - Monday, September 10, 2007 - link

    you might want to consider that opteron had limited bandwith DDR2 667 for 4 cores which limits scaling and performance. For phenom we speak about DDR2 1024 without the registered latency. Reply

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