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Quick Take: 6-core “Gulftown” Nehalem-EP Spotted, Tested

August 10, 2009

TechReport is reporting on a Taiwanese overclocker who may be testing a pair of Nehalem 6-core processors (2P) slated for release early in 2010. Likewise, AlienBabelTech mentions a Chinese website, HKEPC, that has preliminary testing completed on the desktop (1P) variant of the 6-core. While these could be different 32nm silicon parts, it is more likely – judging from the CPU-Z outputs and provided package pictures – that these are the same sample SKUs tested as 1P and 2P LGA-1366 components.

CPUzWhat does this mean for AMD and the only 6-core shipping today? Since Intel’s still projecting Q2/2010 for the server part, AMD has a decent opportunity to grow market share for Istanbul. Intel’s biggest rival will be itself – facing a wildly growing number of SKU’s in across its i-line from i5, i7, i8 and i9 “families” with multiple speed and feature variants. Clearly, the non-HT version would stand as a direct competitor to Istanbul’s native 6-core SKUs. Likewise, Istanbul may be no match for the 6-core Nehalem with HT and “turbo core” feature set.

However, with an 8-core “Beckton” Nehalem variant on the horizon, it might be hard to understand just where the Gulftown fits in Intel’s picture. Intel faces a serious production issue, filling fab capacity with 4-core, 6-core and 8-core processors, each with speed, power, socket and HT variants from which to supply high-speed, high-power SKUs and lower-speed, low-power SKUs for 1P, 2P and 4P+ destinations. Doing the simple math with 3 SKU’s per part Intel would be offering the market a minimum of 18 base parts according to their current marketing strategy: 9 with HT/turbo, 9 without HT/turbo. For socket LGA-1366, this could easily mean 40+ SKUs with 1xQPI and 2xQPI variants included (up from 23).

SOLORI’s take: Intel will have to create some interesting “crippling or pricing tricks” to keep Gulftown from canibalizing the Gainstown market. If they follow their “normal” play book, we prodict the next 10-months will play out like this:

  1. Initially there will be no 8-core product for 1P and 2P systems (LGA-1366), allowing for artificially high margins on the 8-core EX chip (LGA-1567), slowing the enevitable canibalization of the 4-core/2P market, and easing production burdens;
  2. Intel will silently and abruptly kill Itanium in favor of “hyper-scale” Nehalem-EX variants;
  3. Gulftown will remain high-power (90-130W TDP) and be positioned against AMD’s G34 systems and Magny-Cours – plotting 12-core against 12-thread;
  4. Intel creates a “socket refresh” (LGA-1566?) to enable “inexpensive” 2P-4P platforms from its Gulftown/Beckton line-up in 2H/2010 (ostensibly to maintain parity with G34) without hurting EX;
  5. Revised, lower-power variants of Gainstown will be positioned against AMD’s C32 target market;
  6. Intel will cut SKUs in favor of higher margins, increasing speed and features for “same dollar” cost;
  7. Non-HT parts will begin to disappear in 4-core configurations completely;
  8. Intel’s AES enhancements in Gulftown will allow it to further differentiate itself in storage and security markets;

It would be a mistake for Intel to continue growing SKU count or provide too much overlap between 4-core HT and 6-core non-HT offerings. If purchasing trends soften in 4Q/09 and remain (relatively) flat through 2Q/10, Intel will benefit from a leaner, well differentiated line-up. AMD has already announced a “leaner” plan for G34/C32. If all goes well at the fabs, 1H/2010 will be a good ole fashioned street fight between blue and green.

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