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Monday, April 25, 2005
Clever design gives AMD edge over Intel

When Advanced Micro Devices created the Opteron, the Sunnyvale company devised some clever designs that caught rival Intel by surprise, analysts say.

Intel's Itanium chip focused on 64-bit performance, crunching data in chunks that were twice the size of those processed by standard 32-bit microprocessors. But the Itanium was incompatible with 32-bit software. AMD, on the other hand, designed the Opteron to run 32-bit software at high speeds while being capable of handling 64-bit software.

AMD also decided to move a component dubbed a memory controller into the microprocessor that would make it a much better traffic cop for data coming in from memory chips. The innovation allowed data to be routed faster from the memory into the microprocessor, a growing problem because memory chips weren't keeping up with the speed of processors.

That made the Opteron faster than Intel's 32-bit chips, which didn't have the same component on the processor.

Pat Gelsinger, Intel's vice president and former chief technology officer, says that AMD's memory controller decision had its trade-offs.

Intel marketing manager Anuj Dua noted that if memory technology evolves rapidly, "it's a mistake to put it on the processor which can't be changed quickly.''

But it turned out to be a good gamble for AMD because memory technology didn't take any sharp turns. AMD also bet right on how to create the high-speed connection between the microprocessor and the rest of the system.

AMD's solution, dubbed hypertransport, was an idea borrowed from communications chips. And again, it helped AMD beat Intel by loosening the bottleneck of data traffic between chips.

"We were forced to go another direction because of Intel,"' said AMD Senior Vice President Dirk Meyer.

Fred Weber, chief technology officer in AMD's computational products group, says the Opteron innovations also helped AMD produce better dual-core chips -- chips with two microprocessors -- which the company launched Thursday.

Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report, agrees AMD's three major innovations for the original Opteron have given it an edge over Intel's designs.

"It was a one, two, three punch,'' said Weber.

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