AMD launches chips to ‘leapfrog’ Intel

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The war between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices entered another phase Monday with AMD’s announcement of a family of microprocessors with as many as eight “brains”, or cores.

Intel regained a technological edge last year when it released the first four-core processors by combining two dual-core ones.

AMD has announced its “Phenom” processor family, with “true quad-core” – four brains linked together on the same chip – as well as dual-core processors. It is also demonstrating an eight-core processor for enthusiasts named FASN8, pronounced “fascinate”.

The chips, based on an architecture codenamed Barcelona, will be available in the second half of the year.

Randy Allen, head of AMD’s server and workstation division, said the products were the most significant since its Opteron server processor and Athlon 64-bit desktop processors were released in 2003, leading to market-share gains over Intel.

“I think they will be pivotal in allowing us to make further progress. Barcelona is a leapfrog product that opens up the gap,” he said

Intel has been regaining share since it released processors last summer based on its own new architecture, which offered lower power consumption and better performance.

It also switched to chips with smaller circuitry.

“AMD has needed to bring out new products to do something about the drumbeat of introductions that Intel has had,” said Roger Kay, analyst with Endpoint Technologies.

“Intel has closed the gap and then some over the past year so this is an important launch for AMD.”

AMD entered the graphics market last year, acquiring ATI Technologies, the Canadian chipmaker, for $5.4bn at a time when Nvidia, ATI’s main rival, had released more advanced graphics processing units.

But it is beginning a fightback on this front on Monday, with ATI’s next-generation graphics chips going on sale, offering faster performance, particularly in showing high-definition images.

“This means parity at the very least for AMD,” said Dean McCarron, semiconductor analyst at Mercury Research.

“Any gaps that we saw between the ATI and Nvidia [graphics] products have essentially been eliminated.”

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