AMDs Opteron to Power Supercomputer

AMD's Opteron will power a new supercomputer for the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on Monday trumped Intel Corp. as its upcoming 64-bit Opteron processor was chosen to power a new supercomputer Cray Inc. will build for the U.S. Department of Energys Sandia National Laboratories as part of a $90 million agreement.

The deal marks the first system-design win for Opteron, which will start shipping at the end the first quarter next year. The endorsement of the processor by Cray, which has designed some of the worlds most powerful computers, lends much-needed credibility to AMDs unproven 64-bit processor.

While Cray and Sandia intially declined to detail the size of their new supercomputer, AMD disclosed late Monday that more than 10,000 Opteron chips would be used to power the behemoth system.

Seattle-based Crays decision to use AMD chips marks a public-relations setback for Intels 64-bit Itanium processor, which the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker has long touted as the best processor for delivering the kind of high performance needed to power supercomputers. Since its introduction in May 2001, Itanium, which was co-developed by Hewlett-Packard Co., has struggled to gain market acceptance and has been featured in only a small portion of servers sold since that time.

In addition to Itanium, AMDs Opteron also poses a threat to Intels popular 32-bit Xeon processors, which are designed for use in workstations and server. While AMD has yet to disclose how much it will sell Opteron for, sources said the chip will be priced at about $1,500, or about the same price as Intels Xeons and nearly $3,000 less than Itanium.

While Opteron is a 64-bit chip—meaning it can process twice as much information per clock cycle as a 32-bit processor and also address far larger amounts of RAM—AMDs new product will be fully compatible with existing 32-bit applications designed to work in Microsoft Corp.s Windows-based environments. By contrast, Intels Itanium requires users adopt new software to take full advantage of the chips new design.

Cray said its new computer, to be called Red Storm, will deliver a theoretical peak performance of 40 trillion calculations per second. The system, expected to be operational in 2004, will also feature a low-latency, high-bandwidth, three-dimensional interconnect network based on AMDs HyperTransport technology. Cray officials said the new computer will be at least seven times more powerful than Sandias current ASCI Red supercomputer.

"This computer will allow modeling and simulation of complex problems that were only recently thought impractical, if not impossible," said Tom Hunter, Sandia senior vice president for its nuclear weapons programs, in a statement issued Monday. "Calculations that would have taken months only a dozen years ago will now be done in a matter of minutes."