AMD's Opteron debuts

After nearly a year of hype and development, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. today set loose its new 64-bit Opteron processors, which the company hopes will attract buyers who seek the power advantages of 64-bit computing but are leery of the costs involved in adopting other 64-bit architectures.

AMD surrounded itself with partners at its New York launch event, including software and hardware vendor IBM, Linux vendors SuSE Linux AG and Red Hat Inc., and database leader Oracle Corp. Also in attendance was Microsoft Corp., which said it's on track to complete by year's end an Opteron-tailored version of its forthcoming Windows Server 2003 operating system.

IBM offered a major vote of confidence in Opteron by announcing it will begin selling in the second half of the year Opteron-based systems in its eServer product line. The company is the first top-tier server vendor to commit to developing around Opteron.

"Today, we're responding to our customers in this space who have been asking us for an IBM solution based on this type of technology," said Mark Shearer, IBM's vice president of eServer systems. "[Opteron] offers compelling performance at a competitive price."

"Industry-standard pricing" was a mantra of AMD executives speaking at the event. Based on the widely supported x86 instruction set, Opteron can run both 64-bit programs and the 32-bit programs prevalent in the industry today. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD hopes that flexibility will attract customers who have so far avoided more-expensive 64-bit platforms.

Although Opteron isn't expected to compete directly with Intel Corp.'s 64-bit Itanium chips, which are based on a new explicitly parallel instruction computing architecture, AMD nonetheless took some shots at its biggest rival during the launch.

"By the end of this year, AMD will sell more AMD 64-bit-based platforms than our competitor has sold since launching its 64-bit platform years ago," said Marty Seyer, general manager and vice president of AMD's microprocessor business unit. "Why will the AMD Opteron processor succeed? Simply put, because we did it right."

AMD executives emphasized the niche Opteron will fill in offering customers a 64-bit system without requiring them to port existing applications.

"It is time for all of us in the technology industry to change our ways. No new technology without real customer benefits should be tackled," said AMD CEO Hector de J. Ruiz. "The cost of change must be minimized. New technology should not introduce new barriers. It should knock them down."

One customer speaking at the launch, Dan Gregoire, previsualization and effects supervisor at JAK Films Inc. in Nicasio, Calif., said Opteron-powered workstations are being used for development work his company is doing on the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode III movie, due in 2005. "This is a real boon to the effects industry," he said.

Likely early adopters of Opteron include companies in the life sciences and industrial fields, such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, biology researchers, automakers and petroleum firms, said IBM's Dave Turek, head of the company's newly formed Deep Computing unit. IBM decided to build Opteron servers because it was fielding frequent questions and requests about the technology, he said.

"I don't think this will be like a traditional technology introduction, with a slow uptake and migration. I think you'll see a ready-made market that will jump on this pretty aggressively," Turek said.

Three Opteron models are available, the Opteron 240, 242 and 244. AMD is using a model-rating system for the Opteron processor that uses three numbers. The first number represents the maximum number of processors that can be used in a system with that chip, and the last two numbers represent the relative performance of that chip. AMD started the performance numbering at 40 because it thought customers might correlate the last two numbers with the processor's clock speed, and 4-GHz processors aren't yet on the market.

In quantities of 1,000 units, the Opteron 240 for two-way servers and workstations costs $283, the 242 costs $690, and the 244 costs $794. The 800 series for eight-way servers will be available later in the second quarter, and the 100 series for one-way servers will be released in the third quarter, AMD said in a statement.

Tom Krazit of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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