It wasn't too many CPU generations ago that the main focus of performance was clock speed. The public perception was that the more megahertz (or gigahertz), the better.
Now, the current competitive number appears to be in the number of cores inside a processor. Donald Newell, AMD's chief technology officer for servers, believes that this sort of race to an even greater number of cores cannot continue.
Interestingly enough, Newell knows all about the numbers game as he previously spent 16 years at Intel, during which time there was the very clock-happy Pentium 4 generation.
"We thought we were going to build a 10GHz chip. It was only when we discovered that they would get so hot it would melt through the Earth, that we decided not to do that," Newell said, jokingly, in an interview with IDG.
Now it's about who has more cores, but Newell doesn't see that continuing indefinitely.
"There will come an end to the core-count wars. I won't put an exact date on it, but I don't myself expect to see 128 cores on a full-sized server die by the end of this decade," said Newell. "It is not unrealistic from a technology road map, but from a deployment road map, the power constraints that people expect [servers] to live in."
While we haven't seen the end of core count growth, the next big competitive ground could be integrating specialized functions into the processor.
"There is nothing to prevent us to put specific features on die that enable more efficient processing," Newell said. "So you should expect to see heterogenous architectures to emerge where we identify functions that are broadly useful but don't necessarily map into an instruction that you'd want to add directly into the x86 architecture."
Both AMD and Intel are integrating graphics components into their processors, but AMD's Fusion solution promises to be the more capable offering with greater power available for GPGPU functions.