Gloves come off in Intel and AMD chip wars

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Gloves come off in Intel and AMD chip wars
After a relatively quiet period in the competition between AMD and Intel, AMD has once again lashed out against its chip rival.

AMD is accusing Intel of making outdated and skewed comparisons between the chips of the two companies.

"I am sick and tired of being pushed around by a competitor that does not like fair and open competition," Henri Richard, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer at AMD, said at a media event in San Francisco.

AMD alleged that Intel compared a single-core AMD Opteron processor to the latest Intel chip using the Spec 2000 benchmark at a financial analyst conference last week.

The benchmark has recently been discontinued, rendering the comparison void, Richard complained.

Intel spokesman George Alfs acknowledged that Intel used the Spec 2000 benchmark last week to compare its chips with an AMD processor, but denied that Intel used flawed data to make its chip look better.

Instead he insisted that the company relied on data that AMD had submitted to the independent Spec group.

"We took their top public scores and compared them with our best scores," said Alfs.

He also asked why AMD had not filed an official complaint with Intel or the Spec on its recent submissions to the group.

Vendors commonly use industry standard benchmarks to show off the performance of their hardware or software. The data is intended to allow enterprises to compare the performance of competing systems.

But such metrics rarely reflect performance in live applications because the tests are commonly performed under ideal conditions.

"AMD is frustrated that Intel is issuing misleading benchmark test results. But everybody does it. It's a rotten system, but it's better than the alternative," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst covering semiconductor technologies at Insight 64.

The alternative, he added, would require manual testing by the end user for each application and system.

AMD also criticised Intel for selectively picking technologies in the discussion over which chip maker demonstrates the best performance. Intel is at least six months ahead of AMD in the race towards 45nm chips, as it frequently points out.

Intel refuses to discuss the merits of a so-called monolithic design for quad-core chips, as is used by AMD. The monolithic design combines four processing cores on a single die.

Intel is instead manufacturing multi-chip modules where each die holds two cores packaged onto a single chip. Intel's design is less energy efficient and affects performance.

"All I want is a level playing field where we are just talking the truth. I've never met a chief information officer that wonders what the nanometre [scale] in his processor is. They don't care, they don't want to care, " said Richard.

He added that chip size by itself does not provide any indication of performance. As chips get smaller, they tend to produce more heat and consume more power as a result of power leakage.

Such trends have pushed data centres to the limits of their power and cooling capacities over recent years.

Alfs disagreed with Richard that CIOs do not care about chip size. He also pointed out that the AMD executive vice president was wrong about the heat implications of 45nm technology.

When Intel showed off its first working 45nm test chips, the company touted technology breakthroughs that would allow it to cut leakage inside transistors by a significant amount.

So-called source-drain leakage will be reduced by a factor five, Intel claimed, and gate oxide leakage by a factor 10.

Charles Smulders, a managing vice president for client computing at Gartner, suggested that AMD's newfound aggression in competing with Intel is mostly a reflection of Intel's resurgence as the chip leader.

"This is evidence of AMD wanting to become more aggressive in the marketplace," said Smulders. "AMD has had a difficult few months. Intel has woken up."
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