AMD's 12-core chip may cut software costs

The economics of multicore chips may affect every aspect of IT costs

Advanced Micro Devices today released its 12-core chip, doubling the number of cores in the previous-generation chip in its Opteron line. One of the key benefits in taking advantage of the performance gains delivered by a chip with a dozen cores may be in reducing software licensing costs.

The performance its new Opteron, code-named Magny-Cours, is about double that of its six-core chip, AMD said.

Users will look at the price, performance and energy use of the chip and compare it with Intel's x86 chip upgrades, but other reasons for moving to a 12-core chip will be the impact on overall data center space needs and software licensing costs. The chip will be sold in an eight-core version.

For Matt Lavallee, director of technology at MLS Property Information Network Inc., a Shrewsbury, Mass.-based company that supplies real estate data, upgrading to the 12-core Opteron chip from his current quad-core chips will allow him to cut the number of servers and his software licensing costs.

While the 12-core chip costs a little more than an eight-core chip, it's "nowhere near as much as a SQL server costs," said Lavallee, who has been beta-testing the Magny-Cours.

MLS operates 60 servers, and Lavallee said he could theoretically cut the number of servers by half but will likely reduce his server count by a third with the chip upgrade.

In 2004, with the arrival of dual-core processors, Microsoft announced that it would continue to base licensing on each processor, not the number of processor cores. Many vendors take a similar licensing approach, but it's not universal.

Lavallee said he began using Opteron chips about two and a half years ago and believes the advantage the chips have is their high throughput.

AMD has 10 pricing options, depending on the number of cores, core speeds and power, ranging from $455 for an eight-core, 1.8-GHz, 65-watt chip to $1,386 for the 12-core, 2.3-GHz, 105-watt chip.

AMD officials say that along with the chip count, they have upgraded their Direct Connect Architecture to improve CPU-to-CPU chip communication speeds by 33%.

Intel's eight-core Nehalem-EX processor is also expected this week.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata in Nashau, N.H., said the performance, not the number of cores, is what matters on these chips, and he expects that Intel and AMD will achieve similar performance benchmarks, with the differences showing up in how they are used.

"I'm sure that one processor will be better than the other in various benchmarks," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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