Introduction

Over the past several years, Intel has followed an odd path of microprocessor design. On the heels of the success of the P6 core, Intel set two teams in motion - one to work on the NetBurst architecture that would be the foundation of the Pentium 4, and one to work on a low-cost, low power highly integrated core that would eventually be redesigned into the Pentium M. The team eventually charged with designing the Pentium M took a more evolutionary approach building off of the strengths of the P6 architecture, while the NetBurst team preferred a radical departure from Intel's previously most successful architecture at the time.

We all know how this story ends; as NetBurst evolved, so did the underlying architecture of the Pentium M. Dothan was the first tweak of the Pentium M and it was mostly a clean up job to fix some performance issues with the original core. Higher clock speeds, more cache, and slight increases in IPC were on Dothan's CV.

Intel's Israel Development Center (IDC) then took Dothan and re-architected it to be a native dual core solution, complete with a shared L2 cache, the first of its type for an Intel processor. The Dothan to Yonah progression was far more significant than the move from Banias to Dothan, not just because Yonah was dual core but also because of the many architectural improvements that went into Yonah.

The next step Intel took is one we're all familiar with, and involves the most radical design change of the Pentium M's short lived history; Intel took Yonah and made it wider, deeper, and far more efficient. Out came the Core 2 line of processors and with it, Intel regained the undisputed performance crown it hadn't seen ever since the debut of AMD's Athlon 64.

While many argued that Banias, the first Pentium M core, was merely a modern take on the P6 architecture it's hard to see much in common between today's Core 2 and the 11 year old Pentium Pro. The P6 core was a starting point for a long line of evolution that brought Intel to where it is today.

AMD took a far more conservative approach over the past several years; it all started with the success of the K7 core, effectively a wider, faster, competitor to later versions of Intel's P6 architecture. While one of Intel's teams was busy making radical departures from anything AMD or Intel had done in the past, AMD didn't have the luxury of running two large scale microprocessor projects in tandem. The solution was to take the K7 core and improve on it, rather than taking a risky step in a different direction.

The K8 core was born as an evolution of the K7; with a slightly deeper pipeline, slight architectural improvements and an integrated Northbridge, the K8 was a pretty major evolutionary step for AMD over the K7. In fact, it took the Core 2 Duo to truly outperform the K8 core across the board, although Dothan and Yonah came quite close in certain applications.

AMD had worked on dramatic successors to the K8, rumored to be K9 and K10, but both appeared to be scrapped or at least focus was shifted away from them in favor of a more evolutionary take on the K8 architecture. The main difference here that allowed Intel to catch up to AMD's performance is that while Intel's Pentium 4 team was operating on the usual schedule of a 5-year micro-architecture cycle, the Pentium M team at IDC was updating its architecture every year. Banias, Dothan, Yonah and Merom/Conroe all happened in a period of four years, and during that same time AMD's K8 remained unchanged.

If Intel had continued down the Pentium 4/NetBurst route, sticking to the usual 5-year design cycle would have probably worked just fine for AMD but Intel had the luxury of having two major micro-processor teams working in parallel, one of which had a much better idea. Luckily it would seem that AMD realized it needed to compete with Intel using smaller evolutionary steps every couple of years rather than leaving an architecture relatively untouched for 4 - 5 years and thus the Barcelona project was created. Although it's set to debut around a year after Intel's Core 2 Duo that swiped the performance crown, Barcelona is AMD's best chance at remaining competitive.

Barcelona's window of opportunity is slim, depending mostly on how Intel's transition to 45nm goes. Publicly Intel has stated that its architectural update to Core 2, codenamed Penryn, will begin shipping by the end of 2007. However, current roadmaps show availability at sometime in 2008 with no word on when significant quantities will be available. Should Intel take longer than expected with the move to its 45nm Penryn core, Barcelona's mid-2007 launch on servers and Q3 '07 launch for desktops may come at a relatively quiet time for Intel.

The Chip
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  • Amiteriver - Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - link

    Sounds groooovy
    Now lets just hope they have something good to plug it into.
    Reply
  • trisweb2 - Friday, March 16, 2007 - link

    I just want to say how refreshing it is to read an article written by Anand. He is a master of the English language; he perfectly communicates and explains every technical detail and I come away with a better understanding of whatever he's talking about.

    Thank you, Anand, for being a good writer!
    Reply
  • MrWizard6600 - Thursday, March 22, 2007 - link

    I Agree, Outstanding.

    No other site I know of gives nearly as many in depth details, and while ill admit my knowlage of some of the terms is sketchy, I got through that one with a good understanding.

    Sounds like AMD has something to fight Core 2 against.

    I do have one criticism:
    I would have loved to have heard what Intels equivilent to all of AMDs technologies would be, mind you this criticism corrects it self toward the end of the artical.
    Reply
  • stance - Monday, March 05, 2007 - link

    Remember AMD's old president and CEO Jerry Sanders with comments
    like "We will see what we see" and "More bang for your buck" I
    cannot wait to see duel socket motherboards with two four core
    Barcelona's working their magic. reminds me of Carol shelby
    when he brought the Cobra out for road test. exciting is not
    the word, jaw droping performance? Don't take Richard's Statements
    lightly
    Reply
  • lordsnow - Sunday, March 04, 2007 - link

    Does anyone have any idea how compatible the "Barcelona" CPU will be with current motherboards? When it comes out, does it need a new n-phase voltage regulator, for example?

    the reason I'm asking is, I want to upgrade and with the current state of affairs was going to go for a C2D CPU. But with these Barcelona CPU's due out I may stick with AMD - get a AM2 motherboard and cheap AM2 CPU and upgrade to the Barcelona CPU at a later date. But I have to be sure that whatever motherboard I buy now will be 100% Barcelona compatible.

    Can anyone inform us about what the situation is in this regard?
    Reply
  • coldpower27 - Sunday, March 04, 2007 - link

    Barcelona being the server variant will be compatible with the Socket F infrastructure, while Agena will be a Socket AM2+ processor compatible with exisiting Socket AM2 infrastructure.

    Reply
  • lordsnow - Sunday, March 04, 2007 - link

    Any ideas as to what kind of features a user will be missing by dropping a AM2+ "Agena" CPU into a AM2 socket? The enhanced Power Saving features, perhaps?
    Reply
  • chucky2 - Sunday, March 04, 2007 - link

    I asked above and non-AnandTech folks like you and I said it would...but no one from AnandTech themselves jumped right in to give an affirmative.

    I asked for links from AMD's own website confirming that Agena and Kuma would work in current AM2 motherboards, and no one posted back.

    Right now the AM2+ CPU's will work in current AM2 boards rumor is just that, a rumor...when AMD themselves confirm it, or a site such as AnandTech confirms it with AMD and reports on it, then I'll believe it.

    Until then, it's <i>probable</i> that AM2+ will work in current AM2 motherboards...if you're willing to take the risk I say go for it, else, wait until we have an official answer one way or the other.

    JMHO...

    Chuck
    Reply
  • Calin - Saturday, March 03, 2007 - link

    "Intel regained the undisputed performance crown it hadn't seen ever since the debut of AMD's Athlon 64."
    Intel in fact lost the "undisputed performance king" title during the early lifetime of the K7 architecture. The Pentium !!! was faster at some tasks and slower at others (games) than the K7. Before that, the Pentium II was better than the K6-2 (the K6-3 had better IPC than Pentium3, but was slower in MHz)
    Reply
  • coldpower27 - Sunday, March 04, 2007 - link

    Intel had the undisputed performance crown again with the Athlon XP 3200+ vs the Pentium 4 3.0C/3.2C and higher processors. Reply

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