K10: What's in a name?

There's been this confusion over codenames when it comes to what we should call AMD's next-generation micro-architecture. Originally it was referred to by much of the press (and some of AMD) as K8L, and more recently AMD took the stance that K8L was made up by the press and that K10 is the actual name of its next-generation micro-architecture. Lately we've been calling it Barcelona, as that is the codename attached to the first incarnation of AMD's next-generation micro-architecture, destined for the server market. The desktop versions we've been calling Agena (quad-core), Kuma (dual core) and Agena FX for the Socket-1207 quad-core version, once again because those are the product specific codenames listed on AMD's roadmaps.

But when we talk about architecture, is Barcelona based on K8L, K10, or is there even a proper name for what we're talking about? To find out we went straight to the source, AMD's CTO Phil Hester, and asked him to settle the score. According to Hester, K10 was never used internally, despite some AMD representatives using it in reference to Barcelona. By the same measure, K8L does not refer to the micro-architecture behind Barcelona. It sounds like neither K8L nor K10 are correct when referring to AMD's next-generation architecture, so we'll have to continue to use Agena/Kuma/Barcelona in their place.

What happened after K8?

As we're talking about names, there was a project after the K8 that for various reasons wasn't called K9. Undoubtedly there was an internal name, but for now we'll just call it the first planned successor to the K8. The successor to the K8 was originally scrapped, but the question is how far into its development was AMD before the plug was pulled? According to Phil Hester, the project after K8 was in its concept phase when it was canceled - approximately 6 months of time were invested into the project.

So what was the reason for pulling the plug? Apparently the design was massively parallel, designed for heavily multithreaded applications. AMD overestimated the transition to multithreaded applications and made significant sacrifices to single threaded performance with this design. Just as the clock speed race resulted in Intel running straight into a power wall, AMD's massively multithreaded design also ran into power consumption issues. The chip would have tremendous power consumption, largely wasted, given its focus on highly parallel workloads.

The nail in the coffin of AMD's ill fated project was its support for FB-DIMMs. AMD quickly realized that Fully Buffered DIMM was not going to come down in cost quickly enough in the near term to tie its next microprocessor design to it. AMD eventually settled on unbuffered and registered DDR2 instead of FBD.

Without a doubt, AMD made the right decisions with scrapping this project, but it sounds like AMD lost about half a year doing the project. Given that the first K8 was introduced back in 2003, one canceled project doesn't explain why we're here in 2007 with no significant update to the K8's micro-architecture. We couldn't get a straight answer from AMD as to why Barcelona didn't come earlier, but there are a number of possibilities that we have to consider.

Barcelona is AMD's first native quad-core design, which is more complicated than simply sticking two independent dual core die on the same package. AMD committed the cardinal sin in microprocessor design by executing two very complicated transitions at the same time. Not only did AMD build its first native quad-core design with Barcelona, but it also made significant changes to the architecture of each of its cores.

Intel's Mooly Eden, the father of Centrino, once imparted some very important advice to us. He stated plainly that when designing a microprocessor you can change the architecture, or you can change the manufacturing process, but don't do both at the same time. AMD has already started its 65nm transition with its current generation parts, so the comparison isn't totally accurate, but the premise of Mooly's warning still applies: do too much at the same time and you will run into problems, usually resulting in delays.

There's also this idea that coming off of a significant technology lead, many within AMD were simply complacent and that contributed to a less hungry company as a whole. We're getting the impression that some major changes are happening within AMD, especially given its abysmal Q1 earnings results (losing $611M in a quarter tends to do that to a company). While AMD appeared to be in a state of shock after Intel's Core 2 launch last year, the boat has finally started to turn and the company that we'll see over the next 6 - 12 months should be quite different.

AMD in Consumer Electronics New Details on Barcelona Emerge


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  • tygrus - Saturday, May 12, 2007 - link

    See latest low-power Athlon64 <10w idle. Can further reduce max power consumption (from 30-60w) if you limit the clock speed to about 1GHz and drop the voltage (<15w). Reply
  • TA152H - Sunday, May 13, 2007 - link


    Idle isn't so important to me, getting to less than 1 watt idle isn't particularly hard if you go into sleep mode. You can't build a fanless, noiseless system based on idle performance. I was looking at Intel's ULV stuff too, but it's just not there either. It's kind of disappointing, because most people would be perfectly happy with a 1 GHz K6-III using 8 watts or less as it would on modern processes, and nothing like it is available. VIA's stuff sucks and I don't think is very efficient, even though they are targetting this market. My main machine I just upgraded to a Coppermine 600 on a weird Intel VC820 board. It's perfectly capable of doing just about everything I do, except for compiles (even a Core 2 is too slow for that, Microsoft seriously needs to work on parallelizing their compilers, or if they have recently, I need to buy it :P).

    It's an enormous waste of electricity to sell these processors when the vast majority of people don't need them. To Microsoft's credit, they are always up to the challenge of releasing bloated software that requires more memory and processing power but is functionally the same, but at some point even their talent for this might run out.

    While I was writing the first reply, I was lamenting about how lousy the current processors are in this respect, but then I read that at least AMD had a clue and said the Athlon design could not address this space and they had to go with something different. Maybe they'll bring the K6-III back, fix it's decoding/memory problems, and have a real winner. In terms of power/performance, there is just no beating it, these superpipelined processors are inherently poor at power use, and clearly have a performance bias. Why VIA went this way is a big mystery to me.
  • chucky2 - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    If this article has accomplished one thing, it would be that we finally have confirmation that AM2+ CPU's will work in AM2 motherboards. Up to this point it's been people reporting on "sources" and stuff like that, nothing direct from AMD.

    Anand's report is more than good enough for me, I can finally rest easy that the PC I just built my cousin will have an upgrade path for at least another year down the road (if not two).

    Thanks Anand and AMD! (and screw you Intel for you rediculously short upgrade paths!)

  • AdamK47 - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    Well played, Anand. Well played. Reply
  • Kiijibari - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    I would have looked at my watch, while cinebench was running on the 4x4 system to get a rough estimate :)
    Not a correct result, but better than nothing.

    Or was the system so fast, that cinebench was done after a few ns ^^ ? :)

    Apart from that, nice article, thanks :)


  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    I counted seconds in my head, out of fairness to AMD I didn't report the number I calculated :)

    Take care,
  • Sunrise089 - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    Didn't you guys notice the huge disconnect between the excitement evident in Anand's text and the fairly small ammount of new info? I think it should be obvious that AMD revlealed a lot more, but they have put various NDA dates on when the info can be released. So I would say they did open up a lot, but that we will only see the new info become available as we get closer to Barcelona. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    I think you have to shift your expectations a bit; going into this thing I wanted to see Barcelona performance, I wanted the equivalent of what Intel did with Penryn and Nehalem. I didn't get that, but what I did get was a much clearer understanding of AMD's direction for the future. The section on Fusion is of particular importance to the future of the company, it just so happens that AMD's strategy is in line with Intel's, lending credibility to what it is doing.

    Then there were a handful of Barcelona tidbits that I needed to stick in some sort of an article, so this one just seemed the best venue to do so. More information is coming though, stay tuned for next week. No benchmarks yet unfortunately :(

    Take care,
  • Stablecannon - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link


    Didn't you guys notice the huge disconnect between the excitement evident in Anand's text and the fairly small amount of new info?

    Wonderful. So basically this article was an AMD morale booster.

    "Hey this Phil Hester, just wanted to say don't lose faith in us, even though we don;t have anything to show you really...that's because it's a secret. Yeah, that's it. We actually have a 16 core chip running at 3.8 that'll cream Intel. What's that? You want to see it? LOL."
  • TA152H - Friday, May 11, 2007 - link

    First of all, I read the part about AMD becoming much more forthcoming with information, and then saw essentially nothing new in the article. Pretty much all of this stuff is known, and the important stuff you still don't know. So, how are they so much more open again? I didn't see it.

    Actually, I would have been disappointed if they were. I mean, you can scream about how they're not giving you what YOU want, but it's all about what they want. I don't buy them giving information out too early for Intel, you can be pretty sure there are plenty of companies designing products around AMD's new chip and you can be pretty sure at least one person has "slipped" and told Intel something. It's more likely it's not to AMD's benefit to have people knowing it's so much better than what's out now. How do they move product they are making today when people are waiting for their next great product? It's just common sense, they don't care if people whine about lack of visibility, too much is worse than too little. They have given out some numbers, and they are very high, so I doubt they're too concerned about performance. I think they're more concerned about selling stuff they have out today, which they aren't doing a great job of. What would happen if they showed a great product right around the corner? Q1 would look like a success compared to what they'd endure.

    When you talk about Phil Hester you have to realize this guy referred the 8088 an eight-bit architecture (so he was not referring to the data bus). After that, I don't know what to think about what he says.

    Next, the reason the 287 didn't sell was because it seriously sucked! It was worse than the 8087 because it didn't even run synchronously with the processor. Considering the 286 was way more powerful than the 8086/8088, there was a perfectly good reason why no one wanted a math coprocessor that was expensive, generally ran at 2/3 CPU speed (unless a seperate crystal was put in for it, which was done with later 286 machines), and actually had less performance than the 8087. The 387 was much more powerful and totally redesigned.

    Also keep in mind the 486 was later made in an incarnation called the 486SX, that had either a disabled or no math coprocessor on it.

    Saying the Cell is before it's time is implying it's fundamentally a useful product, but other things around it have to catch up. That's wrong and misleading. It's a niche product and it's a bear to program and is terrible in most things besides what it was designed for. Time won't change it, unless they change the Cell. The way it is now, it'll never be anything more than a niche product, nor was it designed to be more than that.

    For their < 1 watt processors, it might be interesting to see if they bother with a decoupled architecture. My guess is they'll just run x86 instructions natively, without wasting so much silicon on the decoders.

    With regards to AMD's next processor taking so long, I think it's even worse when one considers the K8 isn't really a K8 at all, it's more like a K7+. It's very similar to the K7, and is far less of a jump than the Prescott was from the Northwood. It's more like the Pentium MMX was to the Pentium (I'm not talking about the MMX instructions, there was a lot more changes than that).

    The remarks about AMD coming back from this stronger than ever are absurd and ridiculous. They can come back, and they certainly have a good product in the wings, but it's got nothing to do with losing $611 million. It weakened the company, plain and simple, although not irrevocably. They had to slow down their investment and conversion, which isn't good. They had to sell $2 Billion in debts at very disadvantageous terms. Both of these are injuries that will have longer term ramifications for the company. So, yes, they aren't dead, but saying this will make them stronger in the long run is plain wrong and equally weird.


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