Preview: AMDs Big Bet

Company officials and customers talk about Opteron features, speeds, support, and how well the chip actually handles 32-bit backward compatibility.

When Jerry Sanders bet the future of Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on the 32-bit Athlon, he won. Now, for the companys current CEO, Hector de Ruiz, and the 64-bit Opteron, its double or nothing.

AMD has spent much of the past three years or so discussing the "Hammer" X86-64 architecture, its advantages relative to Intels 64-bit Itanium, and the work AMD and its partners have done in preparing a hardware and software infrastructure to support the chip when it launches.

"The announcement of our upcoming AMD Opteron family is perhaps the most important single announcement in the history of our company," said Hector Ruiz, chief executive of AMD, in a conference call with analysts this week. "It is the future of AMD, and its the future of the x86 architecture. We believe its the future of the computing industry."

Over the past few days, AMD and some of its customers have begun to peel back the Opteron wrapping paper in order to give the industry a glimpse into that future.

On April 22, AMD will announce three processors, each using an Opteron-specific version of its "model number"—the 1.4GHz model 240, the 1.6GHz model 242, and the 1.8GHz model 244, according to John Crank, brand manager for Opteron.

A 2.0GHz model 246 Opteron is due later in the year. Eight-way 800 series Opterons are due late in the second quarter, about the time that 100-class uniprocessor Opterons will be available, Crank said. All Opterons designed for the server market contain 1MB of level-2 cache.

Though Crank declined to disclose the prices of the chip, one customer, who requested anonymity, said he purchased the model 240 for between $300 and $400, the 242 for about $700, and paid roughly $900 for the fastest model 244. The "official" prices of the Opteron wont be disclosed until the launch.