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.”
: Cray to Use Opteron in Supercomputer”>
Executives at AMD, in Sunnyvale, Calif., said the announcement underscored the chip makers continuing success in evolving from mainly a supplier of consumer PC processors to a provider of enterprise-class computing chips.
“This is an important validation of the performance and stability of AMD Opteron processors,” Marty Seyer, vice president of server business, said in a prepared statement Monday.
Sandia first announced the tentative selection of Cray to build its newest supercomputer in June, but withheld specifics of the deal until Monday.
Although many of todays high-performance computing systems are based on cluster technology, in which multiple servers are connected together and designed to operate as a single unit, Sandia said it preferred instead to go with a single system design by Cray.
“We expect to get substantially more real work done, at a lower overall cost, on a highly balanced system like Red Storm than on a large-scale cluster,” said Bill Camp, director of computers, computation, information and mathematics for Sandia, in Albuquerque, N.M.
While Crays decision to use AMD in a new supercomputer is clearly an endorsement of Opterons performance capabilities, the deal will likely hold less sway with corporate computer users that traditionally are more conservative in their buying choices.
“The national labs are always looking for the biggest bang for their buck, and theyre not particularly sensitive to how established the suppliers are or what other people are doing. If they think its a good technical solution to a problem, they go with it,” said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif. “It is an endorsement of what AMD is doing from a technical standpoint, but commercial buyers hate to be the first guy on the block with new technology.”