AMD Launches 6-Core 'Istanbul' Opteron

AMD is rolling out its six-core Opteron chip code-named Istanbul five months ahead of schedule, a key factor in its ongoing competition with Intel. AMD and Intel have been battling for attention for the past several months, as Intel has gradually rolled out its architecture code-named Nehalem and AMD geared up for Istanbul. AMD's new Opteron offers improved performance, performance-per-watt, virtualization and power capabilities, and will complement AMD's current quad-core chip, code-named Shanghai.

Advanced Micro Devices has hit the market with its much-talked-about six-core "Istanbul" Opteron processor family.

AMD announced the launch of the chips during a Webcast June 1, with officials touting Istanbul's improvements in performance, efficiency and virtualization capabilities, as well as its release five months ahead of schedule.

The early release was crucial for the chip maker, which suffered through technical problems and delays with its first quad-core chip, "Barcelona." Since then, AMD has changed its processes and gotten its last few processors out ahead of schedule, including Istanbul, which wasn't put on the AMD road map until March 2008.

Many of Istanbul's features have been known for months, as AMD officials have been aggressively talking about the upcoming chip to not only show that it is being delivered ahead of schedule but also to counter news Intel has made with its "Nehalem" Xeon platform.

AMD officials said the new processor family will complement the quad-core "Shanghai" chip that is already out there, and combined the two processor offerings will compete well against Intel's Nehalem products-Intel's Xeon 5500 Series for two-socket servers is already on the market, while the Nehalem EX for systems with four or more sockets will appear in servers in early 2010-as well as Intel's current six-core "Dunnington" Xeon.

"[Istanbul] is the only six-core chip with configuration for two-[processor], four-p and eight-p systems," Leslie Sobon, vice president of product marketing for AMD, said during the news conference.

During a question-and-answer session, John Fruehe, director of business development for server and workstation products at AMD, was asked if Istanbul-despite being ahead of schedule-was late to the game, given that Intel already has the six-core Dunnington chip and will release the eight-core Nehalem EX in 2010.

Fruehe argued that Dunnington's adoption in the industry has been hindered by power and throughput issues that AMD has solved through its use of its Direct Connect chip-to-chip communication links and integrated memory controller.

The standard version of Istanbul is available now and will start appearing in systems in June, while versions for the company's higher-power and more energy-efficient offerings will launch in the third quarter, Sobon said.

The chips also will deliver up to 34 percent better performance per watt and 61 percent improved overall performance compared with AMD's current quad-core offerings, she said.

The Istanbul offerings also come with enhanced AMD-based virtualization and performance features, as well as HT Assist, a feature that improves the throughput via Hyper-Transport connections, Fruehe said.

Fruehe also said every Istanbul chip will have such features as HT Assist and the enhanced AMD-V and AMD-P offerings, adding that such continuity is a key difference from Intel, which will cut or reduce certain features in certain chips.

During the event, IDC analyst Matt Eastwood said Istanbul is addressing issues that are of particular importance to businesses, including the ability to reduce costs while getting the most out of their existing IT infrastructure.

"They're trying to optimize their cost structure, and that means they're talking about [cutting] costs and optimizing their IT," Eastwood said in a brief presentation at the event.

In the past 10 to 15 years, the discussion about data centers has changed, with such issues as operating expenses and power and cooling costs taking center stage, he said.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, said in an interview before the AMD event that the chip maker is looking to offer its Shanghai for the volume computing space and Istanbul for heavier computing workloads.

AMD's Sobon spoke about a "bifurcation" of the server market, with some businesses looking for the best performance they can find with the ability to grow within that platform, while others are more concerned with power consumption and cost efficiency. AMD, with Istanbul and Shanghai, addresses all those areas, she said.

During the Webcast, officials with a number of OEMs, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems, as well as partners such as VMware, praised the Istanbul chips for their performance and efficiency improvements.

Haff said AMD-like Intel-seems to be addressing the key concerns of businesses. There are certainly differences between AMD's and Intel's offerings, but for the most part, they're both touching on such issues as multicore, multithreading, virtualization and energy efficiency, Haff said.

For AMD, what was important has been consistently delivering on its chips after the Barcelona problems. AMD's Sobon said since Barcelona the company has been ahead of schedule for five consecutive product launches.

"It clearly says good things, especially about getting their processes back in order," Haff said. "The x86 industry is not very forgiving of delays and problems of that nature. Moore's Law at some level ... reflects the kind of advancements the semiconductor industry can make, but it's also kind of a cruel taskmaster."

Being late with a product means that all the work put into that product essentially goes for naught.