AMD Saved by Istanbul (Not Constantinople)?

This is not the Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) of yesteryear. Under ex-CEO Hector Ruiz, the chip chump swung at several huge opportunities -- and missed most of the time. But since Dirk Meyer stepped up to the plate, it's been a series of solid hits.

Is Istanbul the home run AMD needs? Released a whopping five months ahead of schedule, it just might be.

The new six-core processor launched this week to a chorus of impressed reviewers and analysts. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) has had a six-core server chip since last fall, but the Xeon 7400 is essentially three dual-core "Penryn"-class processors sharing a data bus and an awkward cache memory setup. Intel has since released faster chips with fewer cores, which tells you something about that product's limitations.

But AMD's Opteron 2400 and 8400 processor series represents the best of what AMD can do on every front: the most modern manufacturing process, a new cache structure that reduces many bottlenecks, and the Istanbul architecture was built from the ground up to get the most out of six cores. And where Intel's Nehalem chips require customers to buy entirely new servers (or at least motherboards), the Istanbul is a drop-in replacement for older Shanghai and Barcelona chips.

While I was waiting for AMD's launch webcast to start, the "hold music" before the presentation included U2's "So Cruel." The band's ode to cold-hearted revenge seemed to fit the news, as AMD's new product attempts to kick Intel in the shins with a steel-toed boot.

New systems are already slated for availability from all the usual suspects including Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA  ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) . The highest-end Nehalem chips still wins most raw performance benchmarks, but the picture is not so clear when you throw in modern considerations like power efficiency and multi-socket support.

Istanbul won't kill Nehalem, of course, but should be able to carve out a very comfortable niche of its own. If this chip had arrived on schedule, sometime in October or November 2009, it would have been a lot less impressive as Intel is not sitting still. But some hustle from clever engineers and visionary business leaders has put AMD back on the map again.

Home run? We'll see about that. But Istanbul is a solid base hit, or at least "a Turkish delight on a moonlit night," setting the company up to score big in the future.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in AMD, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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