Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Disturbing Change In AMD's Routine

AMD has two Analyst Days each year for the past three years. Apparently this year will be different.

2007: Technology Analyst Day - July 26; Financial Analyst Day - December 13
2006: Technology Analyst Day - June 1; Financial Analyst Day - December 14
2005: Technology Analyst Day - June 10; Financial Analyst Day - November 9

If you look at AMD's current schedule you'll notice something peculiar.

2008: Analyst Day - November 13

The late date would correspond to the time of year when AMD normally holds the Financial Analyst Day. If AMD were merely running a bit behind they could have pushed the Technology Analyst Day back to August but they didn't; it seems to missing from the schedule completely. Secondly, AMD doesn't call it the Financial Analyst Day which would suggest that it includes both. The most generous explanation would be that AMD has decided to combine the two days as a cost saving measure. This seems unlikely to me though since AMD has made no announcement to that effect. Presumably if there were a cost savings worth noting then AMD would be happy to say so.

The second possibility is that AMD is avoiding the Technology Analyst Day because they have nothing worth talking about. In other words, they've essentially escalated a policy of no information. I'm not sure though that that explanation is the best. AMD could easily make a half hearted attempt at a Technology Analyst Day which would probably include Shanghai demos, either information or demos of the next generation GPU's, plus information about 45nm, HKMG, the expected hex core chips, and DC 2.0. In other words, AMD could come up with a number of things to talk about if that is all they wanted to do.

I can think of a couple of other possibilities. One is that AMD is aware that their financial issues are the most pressing but AMD probably has nothing substantial to mention. The Q1 Earnings report ducked the question of what Asset Smart is and we'll probably see a repeat of this at the end of Q2. It would not surprise me if it took until November for AMD to have something substantial to talk about in terms of finances and earnings outlook. For example, that NY FAB deal doesn't seem that pressing now but by November the deadline for option on it will be just a little over two quarters away. Perhaps AMD doesn't know today but by November they should be able to say whether the deal is going through or they have to let it go. Secondly, if AMD really is going to make any headway in reducing losses they will have done it by November and have at least a starting track record to point to.

However, I doubt finances are the whole reason. Another reason probably has to do with the fact that the roadmaps from the last two Analyst Days have turned out to be fiction. There are currently no dual cores based on Barcelona. There is neither a Bobcat nor a Bulldozer scheduled for 2009 and in fact we currently have no idea when they might arrive. The contradictions seem to pile up with the introduction of the MCM hex core idea with 12 cores. Surely this would be a stopgap for the server market until Bulldozer. Yet we then have indications that Bulldozer will be made on 45nm technology. This seems strange to me because delaying Bulldozer past mid 2010 would seem to prevent a 45nm release unless AMD's 32nm has been delayed as well to 2011. This too however seems unlikely since we know that IBM is still talking about 32nm at the end of 2009. I guess confusion is bound to happen though when you scratch two roadmaps in a row.

I have also been wondering if AMD is going to put any improvements in the 2009 version of Shanghai or whether it is just a change to HKMG. In hindsight, it would have helped quite a bit if AMD had just put in a couple of improvements with Revision F in mid 2006. And, right now it certainly looks like Shanghai won't be changed much from Barcelona. Yet AMD had to know in 2007 that Barcelona had problems and also must have known that Penryn was an improvement on C2D and that Nehalem was on the way. It is possible that AMD decided then to make some improvements before the design had to be locked by late 2008 or early 2009. It is arguable that AMD didn't know that C2D would be that much of an improvement until it was too late to do anything more with Revision F and that at that point all AMD could do was hope for something better with Barcelona. This time around though the plea of ignorance would not be valid. So, the real question is whether AMD has enough spare bodies to work on a Shanghai bump. But AMD simply may not have the resources to spare.

If AMD really does have anything substantial on the burner then I guess we'll hear about it in November. I certainly hope we don't see another two rounds of minor upgrades that let Intel move further and further ahead and end up hoping for a big jump with Bulldozer as we did for Barcelona. I suppose there is room for hope but there is currently a lot more room for skepticism. Intel on the other hand is in a much better position. If Nehalem were not quite what was expected then Intel could simply extend Penryn until later in 2009 when the next upgrade of Nehalem would be due anyway. In fact, you could even argue that Intel has two safety nets since even the 65nm C2D's are ahead of AMD. However, I doubt Intel needs that much margin of safety since there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Penryn.

8 comments:

Pop Catalin Sever said...

It might be possible that AMD doesn't want to give Intel a 6 months peek at their forthcoming technologies so that Intel may have time to react by the time Nehalem is released at the end of the year.

We all know how Intel reacts to AMD technologies, for example 'Dual Core', Intel scrapped a design with 2 dies on one CPU to counter AMD's lauch of Dual Core Athlons/Opterons.

Also I think AMD is in a big danger right now to be countered in any product launch by Intel. For example Intel might introduce processors with higher frequencies even if it means breaking thermal limts or making the CPU throttle under load, (it has done it before with P4 at 3.8 GHz that was throttling even under normal running conditions).

By not announcing technologies ahead of time this time around I think AMD can secure them selfs a few months of time which will take Intel to react.

I hope this is the case and not the fact that AMD hasn't got anything relevant to show at the moment.

Polonium210 said...

Well, this is an interesting take on the situation. I do not claim to be privy to discussions at AMD but let me offer a few thoughts to widen the discussion.

(1) AMD has its hands full trying to recover from the Barcelona fiasco and holding a Technical Analyst Day is something it cannot afford to spare staff for. If you don’t believe me you need only consider the numerous inaccuracies on AMD’s various websites regarding its own products. For example, the AMD processor price list states that the Athlon X2 Business Class processors have “2MB total dedicated L2 cache”. Elsewhere on the US site it is given as 512KB. Over the past 12 months there have been other inaccuracies too numerous to mention. They apparently can’t spare the staff to update their websites so what chance of sparing more technically
skilled ones for a Technical Analyst Day?
(2) Given the numerous revisions of its roadmap recently, AMD needs to
have firm plans in place to restore its credibility. They need to have made firm design decisions and be confident of delivering them ON TIME and they are not ready to make matters public at the moment-hence the delay to Technical Analyst Day.
(3)Changing Shanghai at this stage would, IMHO, be a waste of time. Their efforts would be better spent on “Fusion” and Bulldozer. If Bulldozer is even half the processor they claim it to be then Intel will have a big problem.
(4)In all the confusion someone only now remembered Technical Analyst Day!

Scientia from AMDZone said...

pop

It is possible that AMD's change is purely defensive. However, I would imagine that AMD will look at least a year ahead in November. I would strongly suspect that they will include both the late 2009 Fusion release for Mobile and the Magny Cours release in early 2010 with G3MX. If AMD truly is going to move to HKMG on 45nm I would expect them to mention this as well. I would certainly expect them to give a new roadmap for 2009.

If they wanted to leave something out I suppose they could skip information on 32nm and Bulldozer.

Scientia from AMDZone said...

Polonium210

"(1) AMD has its hands full trying to recover from the Barcelona fiasco and holding a Technical Analyst Day is something it cannot afford to spare staff for."

This argument is somewhat weak since AMD made five of its staff available for an interview for the May 2008 issue of Reseller Advocate Magazine and then of course Computex.

"(2) Given the numerous revisions of its roadmap recently, AMD needs to have firm plans in place to restore its credibility."

This is one of the points I made in the article.

"(3)Changing Shanghai at this stage would, IMHO, be a waste of time. Their efforts would be better spent on “Fusion” and Bulldozer."

Maybe or maybe not. Ignoring an upgrade to Shanghai means two years of falling behind.

"If Bulldozer is even half the processor they claim it to be then Intel will have a big problem."

I don't know about that; VFX was not on Intel's roadmap when Bulldozer was talked about a year ago.

"(4)In all the confusion someone only now remembered Technical Analyst Day!"

Just part of my blatant pro-AMD spin.

Polonium210 said...

Scientia
This argument is somewhat weak since AMD made five of its staff available for an interview for the May 2008 issue of Reseller Advocate Magazine and then of course Computex.

Good point but Technical Analyst Day
takes a lot more preparation than a short magazine interview or Computex appearance and probably involves a lot more than five people. The presentation itself involves several senior staff and again this alone takes a lot longer than a magazine interview.

Pop catalin
It might be possible that AMD doesn't want to give Intel a 6 months peek at their forthcoming technologies so that Intel may have time to react by the time Nehalem is released at the end of the year.

There may be some truth in this.

tech4life said...

Or the 45nm transition is tanking and they don't want to talk about it.

Lou Ceifer said...

tech4life said...

Or the 45nm transition is tanking and they don't want to talk about it.


Or perhaps you're drawing conclusions worse than a 5 year old with a crayon. Why don't we wait until when AMD actually releases some 45nm processors and see how many they get to the market before we jump to conclusions? You know what they say about ASSuming and all...

Scientia from AMDZone said...

lou

You really can't blame tech4life for bringing up that point. They have ES's of Nehalem over at XS forum. I haven't heard of anyone who has gotten hold of an ES of Shanghai.

It really isn't a great leap to consider that AMD might be having problems with 45nm Shanghai similar to what they had with Barcelona at 65nm. This is especially true when you consider that they are breaking new ground with immersion. Intel does have some risk with double patterning and phase shifting masks but again their 65nm is already at 3.0Ghz so they have time if they need it.

And, keep in mind that if Intel completely blows the Nehalem launch and it gets pushed back six months what effect would it have? Intel would just keep ramping Penryn which is pretty cost effective at 45nm and works quite well. In effect they have a pretty good safety net.

AMD on the other hand currently has 2.5Ghz quads. They could probably come up with 2.8Ghz tri-cores if necessary. But for quads it looks like they will stop at 2.6Ghz on 65nm and even at that it looks like they will be rated 140 watts. AMD really needs 45nm and needs it not to be late.