THE PAST TWO YEARS weren't exactly exciting in the PC CPU arena... from a PR spin doctor's point of view at least.
If you were working on behalf of Intel, the overwhelming Core 2 family advantage over the AMD offerings made the PR job easy. In fact, way too easy, resulting in visible reductions in PR events and excitement in the blue camp. Why bother further promoting a clear winner with extra press junkets and freebies for the likes of us?
If you were plugging away for AMD, on the other hand... well, no amount of spin would've propped up those Phenoms - the stuff just couldn't fight the Conroes and Penryns alike. Yeah, Barcelona server variety had some wins in the MP server and HPC markets, but that was all there was.
Now, we finally got some fun - Arab Micro Devices has been busy over the holy month of Ramadan, preparing the 45nm shot across the bows. The first one, the 2.7GHz "Shanghai" Opteron server and workstation variety is officially out this past week, while the 3GHz "Deneb" Phenom II will be out real soon now, too.
While the magnificent city of Shanghai is expected to be the dominating "New New York" of this Earth for many years, as the US economy sinks into an oblivion that only an engineered World War III can seemingly change (maybe THAT was Obama's Change?) the "Shanghai" CPU is expected to attempt to dominate the DP server and workstation sales space for one quarter, till the Gainestown Nehalem-based Xeon 5500 series appears sometime by March.
For the four socket MP realm, the benefit will stretch till very late into 2009, until Beckton big-sized 8-core MP Nehalems gatecrash the party.
On the other hand, the Core i7 desktop series have already stolen the limelight in the general PC space, and even Phenom II may not have much chance there at the very high end. While the crisis-hit Old World may have toned down the fun by a notch, here, in the sauna-hot Far East, things were heating up by themselves.
The Asia Pacific AMD "Shanghai" bash was, unfortunately, not in Shanghai as we all expected it to be - yours truly especially - but five miles from the INQ outpost here in lovely Singapore, in the famed Forbidden City bar at the even more famed Clarke Quay, one of the posh bar areas with pretty people of all colours and flavours, same for its food.
See that "Fusion" logo all over the place?
The 40 or so regional press were bored to death - or at least sound sleep - with five consecutive long speeches by AMD, Sun, IBM, HP and Dell, most of them emphasising AMD one helluva lot: performance, power saving (no mentioning of TDP), virtualisation, low voltage DDR2-800 memory and such.
The Dell regional server honcho's "when it's HPC, we recommend AMD" rallying cry may sound great for AMD, and probably result in some interesting outside calls to the company which started its life more or less as an Intel systems business. But the HPC market is notorious for near zero-margin donation-like deals which are becoming hugely unpopular in these crisis times, as witnessed by the unusually quiet SuperComputing '08 in the Austin, Texas, last week.
As a consolation to the girls there, the AMD regional manager Tan See Ghee looks like one particular well known Hong Kong actor...
A few hours later, it was time to go to the top of Singapore - the 70th floor of the Swissotel Stamford and its Equinox restaurant cum bar, where Intel put together a "friends" Core i7 bash.
Press, channels, overclocking madmen from Oz and such, all gathered for a vertigo test 700 feet above the city. We got our mugshots taken with the Core i7 downstairs first - mine can double as a Mr Bean audition too:
I had to hide my just-obtained AMD bag under the table, though.
One quick LN2 Nehalem setup on the spot managed to get to 5.02GHz, but not for long. At 4.8GHz it lasted long enough to churn out some benchmarketing numbers.
Intel's Singapore boss Patrick Liew used the chance to handle some benchmark running too, while presenting. Three times he announced the "Fastest Planet" here, though, while keeping a serious face - before correcting himself.
And yeah, the tapas-like food was even better - Equinox is a really upscale place where you usually bring either a very valuable business partner, or a girlfriend / boyfriend prior to a guaranteed after-meal "adventure".
Finally, remember when, during those IDF's, AMD would always piggyback on them, and gather the Intel-sponsored press in the W hotel in Frisco for 'briefings'? Well, this time, quite a few AMD-sponsored hacks from the region joined in the Intel Singapore Core i7 party right an hour after the AMD thing. So, for the first time we can remember, Intel managed to rub off an AMD event...
What does all this mean? Both vendors finally started to (again) fire on all PR cylinders: the venues are more prominent, setups flashier, there are more guest speakers and better equipment. Finally, after a two-year hiatus, they have the "competitive justification" to ask for more funds for promotion.
There's a little bit of leapfrogging here as AMD gains some on the workstation and server markets while Intel cements its desktop lead. There will be more "competitive workshops", high-profile exec fly-ins and, of course, press junket fly-outs. And, the next round of tit-for-tat gatherings is real soon now: AMD Phenom II and Intel Gainestown Xeons... both will be a response to the respective competitors' announcements of last week, so watch out for those. µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ