AMD Flip-Flops: Llano Later, Bobcat Bounding Forward

One of the major points of AMD's conference call (we apologize for missing it) was news that the company's Llano processor—a hybrid GPU/CPU product meant to clock in over 3GHz in dual-core and quad-core configurations—has been pushed back into the first half of 2011. Company CEO Dirk Meyer delivered the news on Thursday, even as he highlighted the company's positive quarter and improving revenue streams.

The news isn't all bad. Even as he informed the press that Llano could ship as much as six months behind schedule, Meyer made a point of noting that the company's next-generation Ontario processor will ship for revenue beginning in Q4 of 2010. Up until now, Ontario wasn't expected until later in 2011; AMD has neatly swapped the positions of the two products.

As for why the delay exists in the first place, Meyer claims that Llano wasn't hitting AMD's internal yield targets. The CEO implied that the decision to move Ontario forward was partly because that particular CPU is scaling and yielding well, even as Llano suffers growing pains. Ontario, for those of you who don't know, will be the first iteration of AMD's Bobcat core. Bobcat is a completely new architecture that targets 1-10W systems; the CPU includes an integrated DX11 GUP and supports DDR3 RAM. We're quite curious as to the reason AMD has had to push back Llano but felt confident pulling Bobcat into 2010, but AMD isn't giving details at this point. With CPUs only shipping for revenue in Q4 it's unlikely that we'll see any Ontario-powered netbooks in time for Christmas, but Sunnyvale's new low-power out-of-order CPU could give Atom a real headache come Q2 2011.

The one thing AMD hasn't mentioned is Bulldozer. Presumably that's because these changes haven't impacted that processor's ramp. Theoretically, it shouldn't—Bobcat, Llano, and Bulldozer are three separate, distinctly different cores. Bulldozer is meant for the high-end server room, Bobcat is a new-from-the-ground-up low power design, and Llano is a 32nm Phenom II processor married to a DX11 GPU.

The $64,000 question AMD isn't talking about (yet) is whether or not it intends to bring Bulldozer to desktops in 2011. Sunnyvale's roadmap has always shown Llano as a mainstream part (presumably on its own socket) through next year, with Bulldozer inheriting Socket AM3 and the enthusiast product lines. If Bulldozer ends up delayed for the same reasons as Llano, it implies that Thuban will have to carry AMD's desktop product division through the first half of the year, with growing support from Llano at the low-end/mid-range as the year progresses.

Analysts, meanwhile, weren't buying AMD's spin that Ontario's accelerated launch was the real news event. The company was downgraded by several analysts once Wall Street opened on Friday, with several others maintaining their ratings but emphasizing increased caution. Coming as it does on the heels of Intel's statements regarding an accelerated Sandy Bridge launch, there's concern in multiple corners that AMD simply may be unable to execute its technology roadmap. We'd like to think Ontario's introduction will be momentous enough to outweigh Llano's delay, but it's not an even trade, no matter how much AMD might wish it was.