AMD’s High-End 90nm Microprocessors to Come in 2005?

@ 2004/04/19
Advanced Micro Devices is not likely to sell high-speed microprocessors made with its 90nm Silicon-on-Insulator process technology this year, sources with knowledge of the matter indicated. The question is whether it impacts the company’s performance and its ability to sell expensive processors in 2004.

Engineering samples of AMD Athlon 64 4000+ and AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 processors presumably made using thin 90nm fabrication process will only show up in October 2004, while the mass production of these chips is scheduled for December 2004, not earlier, as anticipated previously. It takes chipmakers some time after the beginning of volume manufacturing of a certain product to supply the device to its clients in quantities enough to start sales. At least one month should pass after the beginning of mass production to actually launch the chips, if AMD wants to sell them straight away.

The world’s second largest microprocessor maker is also on track with its transition to 90nm process technology, said the company’s CFO Robert Rivet in early March 2004. The first production silicon was expected to be made in AMD’s Fab30 in Dresden, Germany, in mid-April. Actual commercial production of AMD’s 90nm processors was expected to start in July with availability of the actual products in “September-October-November” timeframe. AMD’s 90nm Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) fabrication process was “nearly fully qualified” in early March.

Robert Rivet said nothing about architectural changes for the Athlon 64 and Opteron processors at 90nm process technology, except that the die size for the next-gen Athlon 64 will be “sub-100 square millimeters”; not more than 102 square millimeters, which is a little bit smaller compared to arch-rival Intel’s Pentium 4 “Prescott” die size of 112 square millimeters.

AMD and Intel traditionally start selling faster processors first when they transit from one fabrication process to another. However, with its first 90nm desktop product – Prescott – Intel started to sell performance mainstream central processing units first and only then moved to something more powerful in terms of clock-speeds.

While AMD may not be in a position to sell AMD Athlon 64 4000+ and AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 SKUs produced using 90nm process technology this year, the Sunnyvale, California-based microprocessor maker may still be able to sell its high-performance chips, e.g. AMD Athlon 64 3800+ and AMD Athlon 64 FX-53, produced at 130nm nodes. Intel also has certain issues with its 90nm process technology and may find itself being unable to supply its Intel Pentium 4 processors at 4.00GHz in late 2004. If this happens, AMD’s longer than expected 90nm introduction will not affect the company’s financial results for fiscal 2004.

It is not clear whether it is possible for AMD to product 2.60GHz AMD64 products using today’s 130nm Silicon-on-Insulator process technology.

If the information about December production of 2.60GHz AMD64 parts is correct, AMD’s Athlon 64 3800+ and Athlon 64 FX-53 running at 2.40GHz will be the highest-performing 64-bit desktop processors this year.

AMD is expected to launch Athlon 64 3800+, Athlon 64 FX-53 and some other new chips in 939-pin packaging on May 25, 2004, sources said.

Officials from AMD did not comment on the current issue.

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