JPR Claims AMD Tiptoes Towards Workstation Exit

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News Posted: Wed, Dec 1 2010 8:23 PM
We've talked about AMD's server roadmap on multiple occasions this year while simultaneously covering the company's ramp of its FirePro graphics cards. With all the Bobcat, Llano, and Bulldozer chatter, the quiet passing of AMD's workstation offering has gone all but unnoticed. That, at least, is the argument from John Peddie Research, which chronicles the decline of AMD's efforts in this sphere even as it aggressively ramps its professional GPU products.

We wouldn't be surprised if AMD struck a different tone with regard to its workstation business, but the company's own website lists just two entries under "Workstation Products:" Professional Graphics and AMD FireStream Processors. Opteron is still occasionally mentioned as a workstation solution in various places, but only in passing.


Bulldozer is supposed to revitalize AMD's server performance—will it do the same for workstations?

We agree with JPR that AMD's lack of workstation CPU products is the result of the company carefully picking its battles. When AMD slashed Opteron prices early this year, the company focused its marketing efforts on proving how 12-core Magny-Cours products could compete with Nehalem thanks to a mixture of aggressive pricing and superior CPU scaling. Such a position makes sense when discussing 2S-4S systems; it's less effective when comparing single-core products.

We think AMD will have to wait for Bulldozer before it makes a play for workstations again—but it might be able to do so with a unique approach. The first generation of Bulldozer CPUs won't have an onboard ATI GPU, but our discussions with the company leave us thinking we could one day see this feature even at the higher end of the workstation market.

AMD has been talking about heterogenus computing for quite awhile now; one of the company's long-term goals is to allow workloads to execute seamlessly across both the CPU and the GPU. While high-end GPUs would still be necessary under heavy graphical workloads, a relatively small cluster of processors on-die could potentially boost performance significantly. 
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rapid1 replied on Wed, Dec 1 2010 11:23 PM

Yeah, but on the workstation side of things, is it a money market worth capitalizing on (at least right now)? I would say the AMD hard core, mid range gamers, servers, and laptops would be of higher priority financially speaking. Plus as a hardware technician with years of corporate work experience I also know a large number of this business is done on contract. So in general business's stay with one company for at least 3 years, and usually longer as well.

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Joel H replied on Thu, Dec 2 2010 10:06 AM

Rapid1,

I completely agree. I expect AMD will play things very conservatively up to Bulldozer--Llano isn't going to reshape AMD's competitive position against Core i5/i7 processors. What it will do is give AMD a better value/mainstream solution against Core i3/low-end i5. AMD will probably play to the GPU value when it comes time to market Llano.

I think AMD will probably reenter the workstation market at some point, but we'll need to see Bulldozer performance to say much about that.

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I've seen several comments to this blog regarding my mention of Llano rather than Bulldozer as a possible re-entry vehicle for AMD. There were good and very specific reasons I highlighted Llano rather than Bulldozer.

AMD's high-performance 2S-capable processor Opteron took significant share in the 2S (dual-socket) segment of the workstation market in the period from 2004 - 2006. In those years, Opteron held undisputed advantages in dual-socket configurations (in particular) over Xeon, the reason Opteron went from 0% to around 10% of the dual-socket segment.

The workstation market is very different now than 10 or 20 years ago. The dual-socket (mid-range and above) only represents about 20% of volume, while mobiles (20-25ish%) and entry (55-60ish%) take the majority. And of those, the biggest growth segments have been mobiles and the relatively new "low-entry" deskside machines (e.g. Dell T1500 and HP Z200), segments Opteron was not suited for and AMD chose not to address with other CPU lines/SKUs. Hence, one of the primary reasons AMD didn't make more headway in the workstation market; it chose to ignore 80% of the volume (for the most part, though both Sun and HP did eventually come out with single-socket Opteron machines).

In particularly, the low-entry class represents the greatest potential for volume in the coming years, attempting to bring classes of users who weren't workstation customers into the fold, the AutoCAD community being far and away the biggest and best example. Most importantly, the critical criterion for this market is not performance, it's price and second price/performance. And that's where I think Fusion and Llano can give AMD an edge that Intel can't match. Sandy Bridge CPU+GPU looks to be a winner, but Llano's GPU should most likely have the edge. And that edge will matter a lot in workstations.

Yes, AMD could go back to compete solely in the mid-range and high-end with Bulldozer, but it's already played that game with Opteron. And it didn't experience the business benefits to make it worthwhile, because it limited its TAM to a small percentage of what is already not a huge market. And it did it when Opteron's edge over Xeon was much greater than it will be (if at all) in the next 12 - 18 months with Bulldozer over Sandy Bridge-EP. And though this point is both arguable and premature, while AMD's choices in Bulldozer architecture (e.g. shared FPU) might make it shine in server apps, it might suffer a bit in intense FP-based client applications (we'll know better shortly), of which high-end workstations are the prime example.

That is, if AMD gets back into the workstation game, I believe they should try something different, and that "something different" could (or should) be targeted at the heart of the market, single-socket and mobile, rather than the niche, low-volume mid-range and high-end. Fusion could differentiate AMD from Intel more effectively in that arena, quite possibly with Llano's superior integrated graphics.

Better yet, a top-to-bottom set of offerings, which are well within the capabilities of their technology, existing products, marketing and sales. And both Fusion and Bulldozer Opteron + discrete FirePro give the company the chance to pitch workstation OEMs a clean, one-stop-shop solution the company can pitch: a combination of workstation-caliber CPU and graphics, a proposition that neither of its chief rivals Intel and Nvidia can match.

So yes, Bulldozer and discrete FirePro will make a good and complementary offering to get back in, but Fusion could be the bigger, higher-volume and far more differentiating play.

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I was writing a response, Then the site refreshed and lost it all!!!!!!!!

So I'll just say, F@#%-AMD!

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pinya replied on Mon, Dec 13 2010 1:12 AM

hopefully amd makes BD somewhat as powerful as the xeons of that generation and hopefully more efficient to bring prices down.... and better to bring back the pref of the opteron to the desktop :D

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