Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has spotted a new market opportunity for its Opteron microprocessor. The chipmaker is set to announce a new program designed to make Opteron more attractive to developers of custom-designed embedded devices.
Under the program, certain models of the Opteron will now be available to system manufacturers for as long as seven years, the same amount of time as the Alchemy and Geode chips that AMD sells for embedded systems, according to David Rich, director of 64-bit embedded markets.
Opteron chips were normally supported for just two or three years, but makers of embedded systems had longer product lifecycles than server or PC vendors and they generally required that the processors they use be available for a longer period of time, he said.
Customers had been interested in using the Opteron outside of the general-purpose server and workstation market since the product was first announced, Rich said.
"As soon as we started to talk about Opteron in technical conferences and semi-public areas, we started to get inquiries from CTOs in the storage and communications area," he said.
Opteron uses the same x86 instruction set as Intel's 32-bit processors, but it also has extra instructions that allow it to process data in 64-bit mode, a technique that Intel itself has started to emulate.
The AMD chip's integrated memory controller, that speeds up communication between the processor and memory, and HypterTransport infrastructure, which is used for communication between nonmemory system components, made the processor particularly appealing for devices that needed to process large amounts of data, Rich said.
Storage appliances and medical imaging devices were two areas where there was interest in the processor, he said.
"Many of the high end applications are as much about moving data around the systems as they are about computing. In the other architectures there were a large number of bottlenecks," Rich said.
Opteron might be attractive to embedded designers because of its lower power consumption and high bandwidth, an analyst with Insight64, Nathan Brookwood, said.
"When you put all that together, it makes a very compelling offering, especially for those who are building storage appliances or network-type appliance offerings," he said.
Sun Microsystems has decided to use Opteron for its upcoming blade servers based on the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA) telecommunications standard.
The company also planned to use Opteron in a storage appliance, code-named Honeycomb, that it was developing Rich said. Win Enterprises had also developed an Opteron-based motherboard for the embedded market, he said.
The Opteron 852 and 252 will be the first processors available with the long-term option.
Another model, the 152, would also be available under the embedded program when it shipped in April, AMD said.