It was only two or three years ago that AMD had the workstation solution of choice, over the bigger Intel. AMD’s Opteron series was the first to offer many features that were especially important to video editors, from native 64 bit processing and multiple cores, to hypertransport frontside bus and integrated memory controllers. Opteron’s with these features were released about a year before Intel’s Xeons could catch up. By the time Intel released Nocona core Xeons with 64bit support in mid 2005, AMD was selling Opteron’s with dual cores, and so on the race went. The only advantage the Xeon’s were able to hold onto was their higher clock speed, but it was well known that Opteron’s were far more powerful at a given clock speed.
Then in the summer of 2006, Intel released two major processor upgrades back to back. The Dempsey cores (5000 series) were a maxed out variation of the Pentium 4 “Netburst” architecture, and finally brought dual cores to the Xeon line. The 3.73 Ghz was well above AMD’s 2.6 Ghz and the 1066Mhz FSB final topped AMD’s 1Ghz. Only one month later, Intel released its entire new line of CPUs for all platforms, based on their totally new “Core2” design. The Woodcrest series of Xeon’s (5100 series) were clocked lower, were supposed to be much more efficient per clock cycle, along the lines of the Opterons. Woodcrest had everything to finally close the gap between Xeons and Opterons, with dual 64 bit cores runnning more efficiently and already at higher clock speeds, with a 3Ghz model available. AMD had very little in the way of improvements in their response, and were totally unprepared when Intel released their next update less than 6 months later.
The Clovertown (5300 series) CPUs were simply two Woodcrest chips in a single socket, making it a Quad Core CPU. This allowed a regular Xeon motherboard to support 8 discrete processing cores, clearly doubling performance in high end applications. I had the privilege to use a Clovertown system for about a month when they were first released, and it was without question the fastest computer I have ever used, by a long shot.
AMD’s response was a new line of CPUs with a new numbering scheme, but no new major features. Then recently, a year after Intel brought Quad Core CPUs to market, AMD released their long awaited Barcelona line, which were native quad core CPUs. I have yet to see any version of those for sale nearly a month after release, and almost every review and benchmark has been negative.
We are now a month away from Intel’s next refresh of their CPU line, and are looking forward to more L2 cache, 1600Mhz FSB, and much lower prices. AMD seems to have nothing in sight with which to compete with, which is unfortunate for both Intel and AMD users, since competition usually drives prices down for all users. On the positive side, Intel doesn’t seem to be using their monopoly on the ultra high end to dramatically inflate prices.
Xeons are still lacking AMD’s integrated memory controller and Hypertransport link, but those are scheduled to be included in Intel’s next major redesign, “Nehalem” in late 2008. It will be interesting to see what AMD brings to the table by then. Stay tuned for details when Intel releases their new line of CPUs next month.