AMD Opens Opteron Servers to New Chips

The chip maker is expanding its Torrenza co-processor initiative.

Advanced Micro Devices wants to help computers based on its processors to get new jobs.

The chip maker announced on Sept. 21 an expansion of its "Torrenza" initiative to spur the deployment of co-processors for systems using its chips. Torrenzas second step will make it possible for co-processors to plug directly into the socket—the physical connection between a processor and a computer motherboard—used by AMD Opteron chips.

The move, AMD executives said, offers a direct connection between a co-processor and other system components and thus can grant AMD-based servers—and ultimately AMD-processor client PCs as well—a performance boost, along with the potential to tackle new jobs, such as processing Java, while also opening up new system design options as well. Under Torrenza, AMD-based servers will be able to incorporate a myriad of configurations using Opteron plus add-on chips.

"Were taking it to the next level by opening up the actual Opteron socket—something were calling the Innovation Socket—and allowing vendors to develop silicon that plugs directly into that socket," said Marty Seyer, senior vice president of AMDs Commercial Segment, speaking from Pasadena, Calif. "We think, over the horizon, its going to deliver a lot more innovation."

Thus far Cray, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, IBM and Sun Microsystems have said they plan to evaluate the Torrenza Innovation Socket, according to AMD. A handful of chip makers have also said they would make co-processors.

If widely adopted, AMD executives such as Seyer feel that Torrenza could change the way servers do their jobs, while leading sever buyers, who have focused on things like clock speed or more recently the concept of performance per watt of energy consumed, to look for new ways to gauge servers capabilities.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about AMDs newest Opteron chip, which promises greater performance and built-in hooks for virtualization.

To accelerate the performance of Java applications, for example, companies must now purchase systems and dedicate them to the task. Future Opteron servers could use Torrenza to add Java co-processors, eliminating the need for the extra acceleration gear, Seyer said.

Meanwhile, for systems makers, Torrenza offers greater design flexibility. Hypothetically, by adopting Torrenza, Sun Microsystems could offer a single server design that could offer both AMDs Opteron processors and its own Sun UltraSPARC chips in addition to a series of co-processors, said Mike Splain, chief technologist and chief technology officer of Suns Systems Group, in Pasadena.

To be sure, Sun isnt likely to mix Opteron and UltraSPARC in the same system. Moreover, Torrenza is a fairly new concept, first introduced in the summer of 2006. Its first wave, the creation of a specialized slot dubbed an "HTX port," which allows a co-processor on a daughter card to tap directly into a servers HyperTransport bus, has not seen yet seen large numbers of adopters. Officials at Hewlett-Packard and Sun said recently that their companies had no immediate plans to use the approach.

IBM, however, uses the port for memory acceleration in its new Opteron servers, AMD officials said.

But systems makers are looking at the approach as a whole.

Sun, for one, finds the Torrenza Innovation Socket appealing as the approach removes several technological barriers, including things such as designing memory interconnects that made offering servers with co-processors a difficult prospect in the past, Splain said.

"Whats highly likely is that some co-processors existing at that moment and, if they are, well use them. [Its] also highly likely that well be doing our own …. Will those show up in 2007? Wait and see," he said.

Fujitsu Siemens Computers is already developing multiprocessor Opteron servers using Torrenza, the company said in a statement.

AMD believes manufacturers arent likely to begin adopting Torrenza widely until their 2007 server hardware refreshes. Those refreshes, expected around midyear, will pair AMDs forthcoming quad-core Opteron chip, dubbed "Barcelona," with Torrenza co-processors. Although, technically, server makers could begin offering co-processor-equipped machines at any time, so long as they are using AMDs latest 1,207-pin Opteron socket, Seyer said.

Barcelona is scheduled to appear in mid-2007, AMD has said.

Torrenza will also be applied to desktop PCs, such as game systems or workstations, and potentially certain notebooks as well, Seyer said.

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