Summary: Fresh off discussing overclocking, Athlon 64 FX-51, and multi-core CPUs, in the second half of our interview with AMD's Henri Richard we discuss the future of AMD's 64-bit platform. Future clock speeds are discussed, AMD's upcoming 0.09-micron and Socket 939 transitions, as well as AMD's plans for DDR2. Other topics discussed include Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX pricing and Microsoft's 64-bit version of Windows XP. Read about it all right here!
In case you missed it, last week we were granted the opportunity to speak with AMD’s Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Mr. Henri Richard. Henri is definitely an enthusiast, and because of this experience he has an intimate knowledge of AMD’s products, their position in the marketplace, and how they compare to the competition. In the first part of our interview, Henri discussed his passion for gaming and computer hardware, as well as the Athlon 64 FX and its unlocked multiplier, overclocking, multi-core CPUs, and AMD’s 64-bit software transition. The following is the last half of our telephone interview with Henri, if you missed the first half, you might want to head back to the first article.
FiringSquad: AMD’s Athlon 64 processors have been criticized by some for being too expensive, especially in light of AMD’s core market: retail rather than OEM. What steps are AMD taking to address this, or do you see it as a non-issue?
Henri Richard: Well AMD has always had a reputation for delivering great value, and we will continue that with Athlon 64. Although to a certain degree because the Microsoft OS [Windows 64-bit] has not been released yet…you know some of the value of AMD-64 has not been unleashed at this point in time but it will get unleashed when the OS is available. One of the things that we’re doing is we started with, you know, a very high performance product and the higher speed grade because we wanted to make sure that we had established the brand at the right level in the marketplace.
What we’re doing now is that we’re going to have more speed grades available than what we initially came out with on the Athlon 64 platform. And one thing is that the range of products available both, you know, faster processors than the current Athlon 64 3200+ and also lower processors than the current 3200+ so the price range available on Athlon 64 will be much broader and there will be volume.
I know there’s the perception that it’s still a very high-end part but that will go away.
FiringSquad: Obviously $700+ is a lot to pay for a processor, but at the same time there are many enthusiasts that like the features present in the Athlon 64 FX. Does AMD have any plans to release slower Athlon 64 FX models or would something like an Opteron 144/146 be the only solution?
Henri Richard: Well, the FX is the high-end product and there’s only one place to go which is up. And you also know that our strategy on FX, uh, if you don’t let me make it clear is that we will never have multiple speeds. So in other words, you know, when the FX 53 will be introduced the FX 51 will essentially be end of life and so on. So the whole purpose of the Athlon 64 FX brand is to always be the fastest thing out there and therefore, you know, price point is probably going to always stay up there because it is the premium part for the people that don’t want any compromises.
FiringSquad: Do you feel the Athlon 64 infrastructure also plays a role in bringing prices lower? For instance, VIA has only recently announced a chipset with integrated graphics, and many motherboard manufacturers only offer one or two Athlon 64 boards.
Henri Richard: Well uh, [pauses] the AMD infrastructure has always been very competitive. With Athlon 64 right now, because of the recent introduction of the part, because it is a fairly high-end part on which we haven’t, you know, made available to the market in multiple speed grades, uh, the volume while actually slow compared to the overall PC market, but as we broaden the range of Athlon 64 parts available then it will go up very quickly and at that point, we’ve made it very clear that in the second half of ’04 we intend to ship more 64-bit processors than 32-bit processors.
And when that kicks in then we get the scale of economies and you’ll see the infrastructure go down. We’re also moving, you know with the 939-pin packaging to unbuffered DIMMs and that’s going to help to bring the cost of the platform down and then again, moving to UMA (Unified Memory Architecture, basically he’s saying integrated platforms –ed), so we have the steps to bring the AMD-64 platform to lower and lower price points.
Also there are some very exciting technologies that are being put out there in some of the chipsets in the UMA solutions and we’re really bringing a level of performance on UMA that was never available on prior architectures.
SIDEBAR: FiringSquad.com is running (in part) on dual Opteron processors.
FiringSquad: With your transition to 0.09-micron next year have you seen any hesitation from any of your traditional partners or customers to adopt today’s Athlon 64/Opteron processors?
Henri Richard: Well you know die size is not a concern for most customers. As long as you have a roadmap that’s clear and of course as long as you can control your thermals that’s not an issue.
I think that what’s really been a problem for us is that if we didn’t show OEMs and partners that we have a credible roadmap, both from a technology perspective and also the manufacturing perspective I think people are going to be concerned with the situation for AMD but we’re very strong. We have a technology partnership with IBM and a clear roadmap to 90, 65 and 45 nanometer from a technology perspective and we’ve announced Fab 36, which will be our first 300mm fab and at 65 nanometer.
So we now have both from a technology perspective and a manufacturing capacity perspective a very credible story extending well into 2008, so we’re capable of making the right products and the right quality and so as long as you have that, you know the customer, that’s all they’re interested in, you know, what they buy today, as long as it meets their needs today they’re not really worried about the size of the transistor.
FiringSquad: AMD will be moving over to a new socket for Athlon 64 FX next year, while Socket A was the predominant interface for Athlon, Athlon XP, and Duron. How would you respond to critics that point out Socket 940’s short lifetime?
Henri Richard: Well I think that clearly we’re not going to forget what worked for us in the past and the fact that we had such a stable infrastructure on Socket A is something that we’re going to work harder at remembering and making sure we build into future Athlon 64 products. I see us going there more and more at this point in time and I feel comfortable in saying that we’re not going to go and do what our competition is doing which is changing architectures every six months. So unfortunately for Athlon 64 we had to do one change. I believe that the 939-pin package has a lot of life in it and we’ll make sure that that package is stable and that we’ll make it last as long as the technology allows us too.
FiringSquad: AMD offered a single socket interface for its value, desktop, and server/workstation processors in the past. Why didn’t AMD centralize Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX/Opteron on one socket interface from the start? Did cost or your chipset partners play a role here?
Henri Richard: Well, when it’s all said and done we’ll only have two types of sockets. It’s impossible to combine the performance [inaudible] and [inaudible] of a workstation/server class product and to a certain degree, you know, an FX-class product. On one side there’s one end of the spectrum and on the other end of the spectrum you have the cost sensitive, good performance, value and mainstream product.
I wish we could build a single infrastructure, it’s just that it’s not going to happen because, you know, the number of layers on the motherboard are different, and memory structures are different, so our customer base is going to have to accept that there’s at least two different infrastructures to support a broad range of solutions. But again I want to reemphasize the fact that that we’re not forgetting the lessons of the past and we’re not forgetting to listen to our customers and we understand how important it is to not jerk the market around and change the infrastructure on them too often.
My belief again is that on both cases um, you know, the infrastructures on the market are going to last as long as the technology allows us to make them last.
SIDEBAR: At Comdex, AMD announced a strategic alliance with Sun Microsystems.
FiringSquad: What steps will AMD be taking to ease the transition to Socket 939?
Henri Richard: Every partner involved in the AMD ecosystem has a 939-pin package roadmap. It’s a natural move for everyone because the advantage is it allows us to have the right number of layers on the motherboard and the right memory subsystem. The ability for us to move to unbuffered is big in terms of cost and there will be multiple sources of DRAM. So we didn’t have to do much in order to convince the partners that it was the right way to go and so you’ll see immediate availability as we roll out the products, all the main motherboard manufacturers will have products.
FiringSquad: Do you feel the upcoming socket changes will add confusion to the marketplace?
Henri Richard: Well initially it would have been better if we didn’t have the changes, if it didn’t happen, but I believe that we’ve got enough friends in the business [inaudible], working all together that there won’t be any confusion in the transition from the current socket to the 939-pin package.
FiringSquad: We’ve been told that your follow-up to Athlon XP, codenamed “Paris” will be based on your K8 core, only it won’t offer 64-bit support. Will this officially mark the end of the Athlon XP processor or will production continue?
Henri Richard: Well the guiding principle at AMD is customer centricity. I need to understand how many customers want to buy 32-bit processors versus 64-bit processors. So if every customer I have wants 64-bit processors I’m not sure we would make 32-bit processors anymore. So that’s one way to look at the market.
On the other hand, you’ve got tremendous, tremendous potential in the emerging markets of the world, where although they may prefer 64-bit they’re cost consciousness and the necessity to try to bring technology to the bottom masses really requires a very cost effective solution. And so, for us, obviously cost effective means a smaller die so it’s possible that for the mature markets, the entire offering will be centered around Athlon 64 and you’ll see very little or no Athlon XPs anymore. But also at the same time, you know, it’s certain that in some of the emerging markets Athlon XP has a lot of life. Frankly there are…[inaudible] that would buy an Athlon XP 2000 today, and that would give them plenty of performance and they’d be very happy with it.
So there aren’t any plans to officially end of life, architecturally, the product, we plan to service our customers needs and we will continue to manufacture Athlon XPs as long as there are customers that are interested in the value proposition that that part offers. But I believe that you will see a faster move to 64-bit around the world than anybody is predicting.
FiringSquad: Looking into your crystal ball, what clock speeds are AMD shooting for by the end of 2004?
Henri Richard: In my crystal ball I see performance ratings. I don’t see clock speeds. So as far as the clock speeds, they’ll continue to go up. The one thing that is interesting is that with our SOI technology, we, you know, we had a lot of work to get the SOI technology up and running, but now we’ve got control over it and as you know, it has a lot of advantages over time in terms of the ability to get great performance out of the transistors. You know, our competitor hasn’t done that transition yet and we certainly see that recently their race towards faster processors has slowed down significantly. So, on that, you know, I know you can’t draw any final conclusions on that but I believe that certainly over the course of 2004 we’re going to be able to provide the market with top-level performance.
I don’t want to talk much about the model numbers we will hit but I believe that FX will remain the fastest product out there, period, for quite some time.
SIDEBAR: AMD’s official roadmap
FiringSquad: At the beginning of this year, AMD and IBM announced an agreement to jointly develop more advanced chip-making technologies. When will we see the first products from this deal and are both your companies also working on new technologies (features) that may one day be found on processors from both your companies?
Henri Richard: Well if you look at our technology agreement with IBM it really covers core technology, not processor development. So what you’re going to see is the transistor that is used by IBM and by AMD it could be that that transistor technology could be used in the IBM products or the AMD products. There’s no joint development of processors, so IBM has its own strategy when it comes to processors and AMD has its own and they’re going to continue to be separate.
Clearly IBM is also a customer of AMD from an Opteron perspective, but that’s a different story.
So at the technology level we’re basically joint development in terms of manufacturing and core transistor technology but we don’t have right now, any sort of effort to go and merge some of their products, some of their microprocessor development in ours.
FiringSquad: Are AMD’s days as a chipset manufacturer (albeit limited) officially over?
Henri Richard: Well I don’t think that us as a chipset manufacturer will ever be over but we have to…Basically a couple of things, it’s important for us to have chipsets available at launch based on new technologies and so I think we’ll continue to be probably the first guys out there when a new processor comes in, just to make sure you can do a reference platform, and, you know, it’s working on our new technology.
We believe strongly in the virtual gorilla, the open ecosystem, the fact that there are more good ideas in five or six companies than in one, so we don’t want to be perceived as competing with our customers.
There are some great chipset vendors out there, we have a great relationship with them and we see it that way.
Now in certain markets, very specific segments, where we don’t see enough momentum in some of our chipset partners and we see that their needs to be an AMD solution then we’ll continue to have development in place to make sure that we can service those markets. We’re not trying to become a big chipset manufacturer but we’re not trying to exit the chipset business either.
FiringSquad: In your opinion, what will it take for AMD to regain some of the market share it has lost to Intel?
Henri Richard: Well first we really haven’t lost better share…we’ve decided to walk away from some business and that turns into unit share. I would contend to you that although if you’re taking our share as compared to AMD versus Celeron plus Pentium, you’d see a unit share decrease.
If you were to look at how much of the real business, the real interesting business which is Pentium business (Editor’s Note: We may have heard this incorrectly) we have probably gained share, and that’s been reflected last quarter in the fact that our revenue grew faster than Intel’s as a percentage. Obviously there’s a tendency to track units, but at the end of the day what matters is dollars, and we have a strategy to continue to try and outpace Intel from that perspective and that means a shift from lower end products to higher end products. So maybe we’ll continue to see a decline in unit share but I certainly expect to see a strengthening in terms of dollar share.
SIDEBAR: AMD/IBM PR
FiringSquad: Since the Athlon 64’s memory controller is integrated on the processor’s core, supporting new memory types may take longer. Is this a fair assessment?
Henri Richard: It is a fair assessment, but the advantage of working with an integrated memory controller is so huge that it’s a price we’re willing to pay. The combination of the integrated memory controller and HyperTransport makes the architecture of the Athlon 64 and Opteron products just unbeatable; and we all know that the competition will have to react by doing something because the front-side bus architecture is just not going to cut it anymore.
FiringSquad: What steps are you taking to keep up with the latest memory technologies?
Henri Richard: Well right now we have plenty of room on DDR1 and we have plans at some point in time on our roadmap where we’ll start to introduce DDR2 into the architecture but probably not until uh [pauses] the next generation processor. But if you look at the available memory bandwidth and the performance we can get between the integrated memory controller and DDR1 technology we’ll still be very competitive against DDR2 well into the launch of that new technology and by the time DDR2 would become a faster solution then we’ll roll out our own DDR2 support. So I believe we have a very strong roadmap when it comes to the memory subsystem.
FiringSquad: Athlon 64’s greatest advantage over Pentium 4 is its integrated memory controller. Is this statement true or false? Why?
Henri Richard: I think that there are three areas where, today, there is a significant advantage with Athlon 64, first and foremost, that’s not to be forgotten is thermal. You know, Prescott is a very hot product, Athlon 64 is a very cool product.
Second is the integrated memory controller, and it does make a lot of difference and the more memory, more complex texture, the more you have to move bits around, the bigger the difference, and in particular you also have to remember that the [inaudible] multiprocessing that AMD-64 offers makes for a very efficient multiprocessor system. Another trend that you’re seeing is at the very high-end of the gamers is there are a lot of guys who are now using two processor systems. If that’s the case, the scalability of the AMD solution will just be second to none and I think that will be very interesting.
The third area of course is HyperTransport, because it is an architecture that is far superior to the older architectures. And so the view from our perspective is three big advantages: HyperTransport bus, the integrated memory controller and much better thermal.
FiringSquad: Uh, you didn’t mention 64-bit, that goes without saying I guess?
Henri Richard: Yeah, that kind of goes without saying, absolutely.
SIDEBAR: AMD’s official price list
FiringSquad: Intel’s Centrino technology has really taken off with consumers, will AMD be offering something similar with its upcoming processors or do you feel this is a role your chipset partners will have to address with their products?
Henri Richard: Well certainly you made a statement that I cannot really share. I mean, every single retailer that I’ve met with in the last 60 days has told me the opposite. Centrino has not taken off. Centrino has taken off strictly in the commercial space but has not taken off in the consumer space and that’s essentially because Intel has to deal with a very difficult problem which is they’ve been lying for years to the market saying, well Gigahertz are very important, and they now have trouble with their own product because on Centrino, [having just a] Gigahertz are not a key selling feature, and it’s making their life in the retail market very complex.
Again, those are statements that the customers are telling me, I encourage you to do some more research and check with the big retailers, what they think about Centrino from that perspective.
That being said, you know I think it’s a great marketing campaign, it helps to extend the market, it makes people aware of mobile computing. I will recognize that this is a brilliant piece of marketing from Intel.
We have today, solutions in the market that are very similar to Centrino, they’re based on our UMA partners, our chipset partners, our wireless partners at AMD. And we’re doing quite well within the fastest growing segment of the mobile market, which is desktop replacement and consumer. There we have the Athlon mobile processor and now we’re starting to ship the Athlon 64 mobile processor so we have pretty good momentum.
With that being said, clearly the integration that Intel has done on the Centrino platform [inaudible] to facilitate wireless and enhance that device is a good demonstration and we have our own set of initiatives and we’ll come with a much stronger mobile offering than we’ve ever had as we continue to focus on that segment.
AMD has had a tradition of being very centered on the desktop and recently we’ve realigned our priorities and now its server first, then mobile, then desktop. That doesn’t mean that we don’t consider desktop as important , it just means that when we go and prioritize our efforts we’re going to make sure we have a great server part, we’re going to make sure we have a great part for mobility, and definitely when you do that you end up with a great desktop part in the end.
FiringSquad: You’ve announced a few design wins for the mobile variant of Athlon 64. Can you give us an update on when these systems will be available?
Henri Richard: Yeah, all of the OEMs have announced or pre-announced Athlon 64-based mobile designs. They’re going to ship in Q1. [pauses] I would say it’s going to be, kind of a rolling thunder of release of systems between the third week of January and the end of February.
SIDEBAR: AMD offers two mobile Athlon 64 processors, the 3000+ and 3200+.
FiringSquad: AMD’s model number numbering system is over two years old now. Is the model number here to stay, or do you foresee a time in the future when AMD will go back to relying solely on a processor’s clock speed?
Henri Richard: Well I don’t think we should ever abandon the reality that, you know, [pauses] measuring a processor by its clock speed would be like measuring the power of an engine by its RPMs. It’s stupid. Everybody understands the notion of torque and RPM to get the full power of a car engine. You know it’s pretty obvious to people in the car business, but it’s not obvious to people in the processor business.
I think the model number is a great idea, I think that we need to continue to assess the performance of products in the most honest way and the most intuitive way to the customers and I think it’s a great way to do that.
I can tell you one thing though, the model number system today is like a 32-bit model rating, and so, I think it’s important for us at this time being able to represent to our customers what the difference is when you have 64-bit, and so that’s something we haven’t started yet but we need to with partners and with the feedback of our customers.
We need to understand how we’re going to go ahead and represent to a consumer that the same system, the same piece of hardware, once you upgrade your operating system will actually give you better performance, and that complexity is one of the challenges in the model number scheme but our marketing team and our industry partners are looking at this and, you know, trying to think how can we do this in the most honest and transparent way for the user.
FiringSquad: Can you give us the latest ETA on the 64-bit edition of Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system?
Henri Richard: Well you’d really have to ask Microsoft, but they are very committed to the 64-bit version of Windows XP.
We believe they made the right decision in prioritizing their service pack around the security features, it’s a little painful for us, of course we would have liked the initial schedule to remain the same, but you know, as a partner, as a great partner, there is disappointment in the loss, we’re very anxious to get that product out there, but we understand the necessity that they have to address the security issues that are really getting to be a bigger concern in many ways in the minds of the customers, but I’m very confident that once they’ve got that service pack out the door, all the energy will come to bringing the AMD-64 version of Windows XP to the market.
As far as when is the exact date, I would really encourage you to discuss this with them.
SIDEBAR: While AMD’s model numbering system was officially based on performance relative to Thunderbird, it has since been replaced by a stock formula.
FiringSquad: We’ve been told that Microsoft will not be offering a 64-bit version of Windows XP at retail. Do you think this will affect Athlon 64 sales?
Henri Richard: I can’t comment on that statement, I don’t think it represents, you know, that part of the market. I think that, again, there will be a version supporting AMD-64 and whether that version will be available at retail or not is really the decision of the OEM and how they want to bundle it, so I can’t make any comment on that.
FiringSquad: Um, would you say the fact that 64-bit Windows isn’t here, has that affected AMD’s Athlon 64 sales?
Henri Richard: Well, we had a plan that always comprehended the fact that the 64-bit operating system would come later, so we have a game plan, we’re following that game plan, and we had planed for this. I think that if a 64-bit OS was out there it would help us, probably, you know, allow us to go faster, but today we have very, very good performance and we’re selling it based on that performance alone with the advantage that once the 64-bit software is available you’ll have the full value of your investment.
So I don’t think that’s a negative, but clearly we believe that once the 64-bit OS is out there it will be a big positive.
FiringSquad: Okay, last question, what killer app do you see upcoming that will really highlight the 64-bit architecture of the Athlon 64/Opteron?
Henri Richard: Well I’ll give you a couple of thoughts, first there’s the obvious stuff, which is 64-bit texture and anything that has to do with video. I really believe that people rapidly realized that cinematic computing really requires 64-bit. But that’s obvious and that’s already been demonstrated when you see some of the reviews.
I think there are a couple of other areas that are very interesting. First it is clear to me that to really have real-time software encoding/decoding of HDTV you need 64-bit, and I believe that as you move rapidly to HDTV content and people have their 16x9 LCD panels on their notebooks, on their desktop, they’re going to want to do PVR type activities around HDTV and for that to be really flawless and experience the smoothness and quality that you’d expect, you’re going to need 64-bit. So that’s one area where I believe that people are going to realize that you really need a 64-bit environment, to have quality HDTV on your PC, so that would be a killer app and will make 32-bit environment obsolete quickly.
The other area of interest is you know, back to security. It would be a lot tougher to crack a 64-bit environment than it would be to crack a 32-bit environment. Encryption engines will be a lot more powerful, anti-virus software will be far more powerful, and I believe that AMD is going to deliver with its partners a 64-bit environment that will be infinitely more secure than the 32-bit environment. That alone could be a killer app.
FiringSquad: And no gaming? [laughs]
Henri Richard: Well, I told you, with gaming it’s clear. My sense is that once the 64-bit games are out there, the visual experience and the AI experience that you get out of the 64-bit games will make the 32-bit games pale in comparison. As you’ve seen before, if you look what happened on the game consoles, when 64-bit Nintendo and Sega, and Sony came out, the 32-bit versions became obsolete very quickly. What was true in that environment I think will become true in the PC environment just as quickly.
But again, I think that’s kind of obvious to expect that, I was trying to give you a demonstration of other areas where other areas will become killer apps for the 64-bit environment.
Once again we’d like to thank Henri Richard for answering all of our questions as well as Brenda Rarick and Damon Muzny of AMD’s PR department for granting us this interview. Also, Henri asked specifically for feedback and suggestions – what do you think of AMD’s model numbering system, are there ways it can be improved? What features do you really like about the Athlon 64, what aspects do you dislike? Are there ways AMD can make the Athlon 64 FX even more appealing to gamers? Feel free to share your thoughts on these topics in the news comments for this article!
SIDEBAR: Are there any questions you would have liked to see in the interview? How do you think AMD should address model numbers for Windows 64-bit? Share your thoughts in the news comments!
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