The original Opteron processors that debuted in 2003 heralded a new era of performance computing, true 64-bit processing support, and its scalable architecture meant that vendors could dish out 4-way SMP platforms and systems with ease and even 8-way SMP ones without much external intervention. At a time when AMD had negligible presence in the workstation and server market, the Opteron CPUs by the way of the K8 architecture (epitomized by the Athlon 64 desktop processors) was their golden key to unlock and tap on to this high-end, high-profit segment. Certainly it took AMD a while to convince vendors to adopt their solutions, but surely and steadily, they ate into the once Intel dominated segment. In fact, Sun's adoption of the AMD's Opteron processors in their x86 server lineup sometime later was a strong indication to the industry that AMD has got something right going.
By the third quarter to 2006, AMD captured over 25% of the x86 server market share, which is an incredible feat given the company's roots and focus just a few years earlier. This period however brought Intel's jaw-dropping Core 2 Duo processors to the desktop and Xeon 51xx series (Woodcrest) processors for workstations and servers. As we all know by now, the performance standing of Intel's new processors was so phenomenal, it was akin to the revolutionary Opteron processor during its heyday. However, the Woodcrest processors were not AMD's headache yet. No sooner than a few months after, Intel trumped AMD with its manufacturing process technology prowess by ushering in quad-core processors for the desktop, workstation and server markets. AMD now has a real problem since they were stuck with dual-core processors and even if they had a more scalable platform, Intel could match AMD's processing prowess and even exceeded it with just half the processor quantity and at lower power and thermals. With its lead eroded, AMD had to resort to drastically cutting its processor prices to stay competitive against its rival for nearly a year more.
In September 2007, AMD finally had its breakthrough with the long-awaited Barcelona processor which features a native quad-core design (read as a quad-core processor on a single silicon die). The Barcelona is also AMD's first processor with major architectural changes since the K8 debuted several years earlier for the first Opteron and Athlon 64 lineup. While Barcelona has hardly made an impact against Intel's current Clovertown processors, Intel is already on the brink of launching their next refresh of processors based on the 45nm process technology. Codenamed Harpertown, they incorporated a few enhancements to the Core microarchitecture, such as more cache and a new high performance platform.
We'll run through the Barcelona's and Harpertown's core updates quickly and hit the benchmark segment for some interesting findings soon enough, so hold on tight and read on!