Linuxworld: AMD launches Rev F Opteron server chip

HP, IBM and Sun have already unveiled servers using the processor

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. today released a new version of its Opteron processor, the popular server chip that's made AMD a serious competitor of rival Intel Corp.

Vendors including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. have announced plans to sell servers using the new Rev F chip -- formally the Next-Generation AMD Opteron processor.

Vendors applaud the chip's support of virtualization and DDR2 memory, as well as its ability to maintain constant electrical and thermal boundaries as it rises from dual-core design today to quadcore in 2007.

"Opteron's success stems from its simplicity. When we changed from single to dual core, we maintained the same socket, thermals and motherboard. That keeps it predictable for IT managers as they plan their data centers," said Vladimir Rozanovich, AMD's director of commercial business for North America.

AMD hopes the chip will preserve its recent gains in market share. The company has watched sales rocket up with Opteron, which is popular with customers who like its power-efficient processing in an age of soaring costs for data center power and cooling.

That popularity has driven server sellers like Dell Inc. and IBM to launch AMD-based hardware in recent months. By the end of 2006, Opteron chips will be used in 50 Tier 1 server platforms, double the number in 2005, Rozanovich said.

Indeed, AMD posted a 25.9% market share for x86-based servers in the second quarter of 2006, a 133% increase from the same quarter last year, according to Mercury Research.

To illustrate the importance of Opteron in AMD's portfolio, its market share for all chips -- including desktop, mobile and server -- was only 21.6% that quarter.

The rest of the market belongs to Intel, which struck a blow against Opteron in June with the launch of its Woodcrest Xeon 5100 server chip, a member of the company's Core 2 Duo generation of power-efficient chips built with 65-nanometer architecture.

Now AMD hopes to regain its momentum with the Rev F chip.

AMD will sell the new Opteron in three power levels. The mainstream line runs at 95 watts, which is appropriate for Tier 1 vendors such as Dell, HP, Sun and IBM and smaller sellers like Rackable Systems Inc., Egenera Inc., Fujitsu Ltd. and Appro International Inc., Rozanovich said.

The high-performance SE version will run at 120 W for a series of Sun servers, and a low-power HE version will run at 68 W for blade servers used in the financial services and oil and gas exploration markets.

AMD further divides the new chip line into three server sizes. The Opteron 1000 series chips are appropriate for single-chip servers and workstations, while the 2000 series will fit two-processor machines and the 8000 series will fit four- and eight-chip machines.

The lion's share of sales will come in the two-chip server market, which accounts for 80% of all x86 servers, said Rozanovich. Most of the remainder comes in the fast-growing four-chip server segment.

Priced in 1,000-unit quantities, the chips cost $2,149 for the Opteron 8218, $873 for the Opteron 2218 and $749 for the Opteron 1218. All three chips run at 2.6 GHz, but other variations range from 1.8 GHz to 2.8 GHz.

HP plans to use the Rev F chip in six new products: the ProLiant DL385 G2 and DL585 G2 rack-optimized servers and the BL25p G2, BL45p G2, BL465c and BL685c server blades. The company has not announced prices but plans to ship all six products during the fourth quarter of this year.

HP credits the new Opteron chip with helping create a 15% performance boost comparing the DL585 G1 to DL585G2. That improvement also comes from HP's decision to shrink its disk drives from 3.5 in. to 2.5 in.

Sun will use Rev F Opteron chips in its Sun Fire X2100 M2 and X2200 M2 servers, relying on the new technology to compete against products like HP's D1320 G4, Dell's PowerEdge 850 and IBM's xServer 306m.

Compared with competing servers that use Intel's Woodcrest Xeon 5160 chip, Sun says its Opteron-based X2200 has 36% better performance with 15% less power consumption. Sun expects to ship the products later in August, with pricing at $945 for the X2100 server and $1,595 for the X2200.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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