After much hype and anticipation, Advanced Micro Devices will officially unveil its quad-core Opteron processor during seven different worldwide events on Sept. 10.
The quad-core Opteron, better known by its “Barcelona” code name, has been shipping to AMDs software and hardware partners for more than a month, although the company waited until Sept. 10 to make the official announcement. AMD has bet a sizable portion of its business on the technology on the “native architecture” of its x86 quad-core processor as the Sunnyvale, Calif., company goes head-to-head with Intel in the high-end, multiprocessor server market.
As the company announced in July, the quad-core Opteron will debut with a maximum clock speed of 2.0GHz, although several AMD executives, including Chairman and CEO Hector Ruiz, have said the company plans to ramp up the clock speeds in the coming quarters. At least one model scheduled for release in the fourth quarter will offer a speed of 2.3GHz. An AMD source told eWEEK that there are also plans for a 2.5GHz model with a thermal envelope of 105 watts.
Instead of clock speed, AMD plans to focus on the virtualization capabilities of Barcelona and its power performance. In addition to the processor, AMD plans to introduce a new metric to measure power called Average CPU Power, or ACP. The metric, said Pat Patla, director of the server and workstation unit for AMD, will offer a more accurate measurement of power use compared to Intels TDP, which refers to how much heat a chip has to dissipate. AMD has been using the TDP metric, but will now focus on ACP.
CEO Hector Ruiz expects Barcelona to strengthen AMDs position against Intel. Read the interview here.
Under the new ACP metric, AMD will offer Barcelona with a thermal envelope between 105 watts and 55 watts. Originally, AMD said the quad-core processor would fit inside the same 65- to 95-watt envelope as the dual-core Opteron processor. The new metric will include the power used for all parts of the processor, including the cores, memory controller and AMDs own HyperTransport links.
“Average CPU Power is much more meaningful than Intels conservative TDP values,” Patla said. “We know that ACP is relevant. We used to reference our TDP, which is our theoretical maximum wattage. Under commercially relevant workloads the processors would be consuming considerably lower power than our TDP or the theoretical maximum figure, and when youre planning a data center, an overestimated power budget can sacrifice data center efficiency. What we have done is create a much more meaningful, real-world spec.”
Despite all the work that went into developing and positioning Barcelona in the market, the run-up to the Sept. 10 debut did not come off as smoothly as AMD had hoped.
First, the company pushed back the debut of the quad-core Opteron by several months. It was originally scheduled to hit the market by mid-year. Then, executives had to concede that the processors clock speed had come in lower than some partners and industry experts had anticipated. In an interview with eWEEK a few weeks before the launch, Ruiz said that some of the technological aspects of developing Barcelona proved much tougher than the company had anticipated.
“There is nothing that we would have been more excited about than getting it out earlier,” Ruiz said in the interview.
“But you know we are not making excuses. This is a damn difficult thing to do, as Im sure you can imagine …This is 600 million transistors on a chip, four cores, complex technology and tremendous architectural features. It was, frankly, a little tougher challenge than we had anticipated and it frustrated the hell out of us because we wanted to get it out there earlier.”
Click here to read more about AMDs current road map.
In addition to the technical problems, AMD has faced an Intel that has bounced back in the past year with its Core microarchitecture and has been shipping quad-core Xeons since November. On Sept. 6, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., rolled out its “Caneland” platform for multiprocessor servers that includes new quad- and dual-core “Tigerton” processors.
Finally, there are AMDs financial problems, which include the first two financial quarters of 2007, where the company had to report losses. Then, the company lost a couple of significant executives, including Henri Richard, the companys marketing chief and one of its most vocal spokesmen.
Jim McGregor, a research director at the InStat Group, said the lack of a Barcelona model with a significant clock speed does not matter so much in the MP space, where the processor is looking to compete first. However, clock speed will matter later when AMD prepares to release additional models for one- and two-socket x86 servers.
For now, the two issues that the companys customers seemed most concerned about, McGregor said, are that the quad-core Opteron works within the same thermal envelope as the dual-core version and that it will fit into the same socket.
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AMD Finally Rolls Out
“An IT manager is going to update the BIOS and its really that simple,” he said.
“A small percentage of their customers are going to upgrade, but the fact that you can do this is very critical to their image of being able to move from dual-core to quad-core solutions. When you have a data center with thousands of [servers], it becomes a critical issue. Another critical thing that AMD did is not changing the thermals, because you can have an environment populated with quad-cores and dual-core and not have to worry about changing the thermal environment.”
The one critical test, McGregor said, is overcoming industry skepticism due to the late launch of Barcelona. If the company delayed any longer, he said, it would begin to cost them design wins from hardware vendors.
When Barcelona debuts, AMD will offer a total of nine different models, including five energy efficient—HE—models and four standard performance processors. A high performance model will roll out in the fourth quarter. Each core of Barcelona offers 512KB of L2 cache. The cores will also share 2MB of L3 cache.
AMDs market share rebounded in the second quarter. Click here to find out why.
The two standard performance models for four-way systems are the Opteron 8350, which runs at 2.0GHz, and the Opteron 8347, which runs at 1.9GHz. The two processors have an ACP of 75 watts. The 8350 model will sell for $1,019 per 1,000 units shipped and the 8347 model is priced at $786 per 1,000 units.
The other two processors for MP systems are the energy efficient models, the 8347 HE, which has a clock speed of 1.9GHz, and the 8346 HE, which runs at 1.8GHz. Both models have an ACP of 55 watts. The price for the 8347 HE model is $873 per 1,000 units shipped and the 8346 HE is $698 per 1,000 units.
AMD will also offer five models for two-way systems. The standard performance models include the Opteron 2350 and the 2347, which offer clock speeds of 2.0GHz and 1.9GHz, respectively. Each offers an ACP of 75 watts and the price for the 2350 model is $389 per 1,000 units shipped, while the 2347 is $316 per 1,000 units.
Finally, AMD has three energy efficient models for two-way systems. The three models, the 2347 HE, the 2346 HE and the 2344 HE, have clock speeds between 1.9GHz and 1.7GHz and all have ACP of 55 watts. The prices range from $377 to $209 per 1,000 units shipped.
The quad-core Opteron processors are built on the companys 65-nanometer manufacturing process at its Fab 36 facility in Dresden, Germany. AMD will offer a 45-nanometer processor, called “Shanghai,” in 2008 and that will be followed by the eight-core “Sandtiger” processor in 2009.
In December, AMD will offer a quad-core desktop processor, “Phenom,” with a platform that will include an ATI Radeon HD 2000 graphics card and an AMD chip set.
Despite the problems that AMD has encountered on the road to the Barcelona debut, the company does have some factors working in its favor. Unlike when the first Opteron processors appeared, AMD will now have wide top-tier OEM support for Barcelona, including commitments from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Dell.
Another company that plans on using Barcelona is Rackspace Managed Hosting in San Antonio, Texas. In an e-mail, Nicolas Keller, director of platform products, said after testing the processor, he was not discouraged by its less-than-anticipated clock speed, and that its energy performance and virtualization capabilities make up for the lack of clock speed performance.
“With seven data centers running more than 30,000 servers, were always looking for the best performance per watt,” Keller wrote. “It appears that Barcelona offers better performance/power ratio and forward looking capabilities such as embedded virtualization capabilities. We definitely like AMDs approach to power consumption and are looking forward to see them integrate some of the graphic pipeline [ATI] technologies into CPUs.”
Keller added that Rackspace plans on using Barcelona with its own “white box” servers.
Another selling point for Barcelona is the socket. The quad-core processor uses the same 1,207-pin socket that the company designed for the dual-core Opteron, which will allow users to upgrade to the new chip with a few adjustments.
AMD has also detailed some of the other improvements and capabilities of Barcelona, including the companys Direct Connect Architecture, which allows for improved memory and bandwidth by directly connecting memory to the CPU, and its PowerNow technology, which works with the operating system and can increase or reduce the amount of power to the chip depending on the demand.
The quad-core Opteron will also have the ability to handle 128-bit computing on each core, which will give Barcelona 428 floating point units on each chip, which will offer better performance for high-intensity scientific applications.
Then there is AMDs virtualization technology—AMD-V—that will offer better support for live virtual machine migration and support for 64-bit guest operating systems.
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