AMD Touts Opteron Performance

Benchmark results show speed of future server chip is unprecedented for a 64-bit processor.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on Tuesday revealed the first performance data on its upcoming 64-bit Operton processor, disclosing impressive data results achieved on its chip running at 2GHz and positioning it to go after Intel Corp.s 32-bit Xeon in the two-way and four-way server market.

AMDs presentation at the Microprocessor Forum here marked the first time the company has publicly revealed what speed its future server chip, based on an architecture code-named Hammer, will run at when released in the first half of next year. While the speed is well below that of a top PC processor, its unprecedented for a 64-bit chip, with Fujitsus Sparc64 V chip the current speed leader at 1.3GHz.

But clock speed alone doesnt give a clear indicator of performance, as AMD has long argued in contending that its lower frequency Athlon XP processors for PCs perform equally as well as faster Intel Pentium 4s.

In keeping with that argument, AMD Chief Technology Officer Fred Weber also presented the first performance benchmarks on its newest chip, choosing the widely used SPECfp and SPECint ratings that focus on processor--rather than overall computer--performance. The results are considered unofficial since they are based on hardware that is not currently publicly available.

SPEC, the acronym for the System Performance Evaluation Cooperative, is a nonprofit industry cooperative that manages the open benchmark. SPECfp measures floating-point performance, an important feature in processing graphics, and SPECint measures integer performance, which focuses on compute-intensive workloads.

An Opteron running at 2GHz with PC2700 DDR SDRAM achieved an unofficial score of 1,202 on SPECint, well above the 957 posted for Intels 2.8GHz Xeon and 810 reported for its 1GHz Itanium 2. Both tests were run on 32-bit applications, since 64-bit applications for Opteron are not available.

AMDs unofficial score for Opteron on SPECfp was also strong, achieving a result of 1,170, compared with 887 for the 2.8GHz Xeon, but well short of the 1,370 achieved by the 1GHz Itanium 2.

However, both Opteron scores were higher than those posted by other major 64-bit processors, including IBMs Power4 and Sun Microsystems Inc.s UltraSparc III.

But rather than compete against other 64-bit products, AMD is positioning Opteron to go head-to-head with Xeon, which sells strongly in workstations and low-end multiprocessor servers. In addition, Opteron is designed to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications, making it suitable for use with Microsoft Corp.s Windows operating systems and compatible applications, which is Xeons target market.

AMD will also release a desktop version of its 64-bit architecture, code-named Clawhammer, in the first quarter of next year. The chip was originally slated to be released late this year, but AMD pushed back the launch two weeks ago for undisclosed reasons. Despite the delay in releasing the desktop product, Weber said development of Clawhammer and Opteron are on track and will be ready to fight for market share next year.

"That AMD Opteron processor is designed to offer enterprise-class performance for servers, but at the same time this is a sweet little desktop processor as well," he told several hundred engineers and developers attending the conference.

While AMD on Tuesday offered a sunny outlook for its future processor, dark clouds appear to be forming over the company as its debts continue to mount. Hit hard by a sagging demand for its processors and a price war with Intel, AMD has posted quarterly losses for the past year.

Later today, attention will turn back to AMDs bottom line when the Sunnyvale, Calif., company reveals its third quarter earnings, which it has already warned will fall well below previous projections and likely result in the biggest quarterly loss yet for the company.