Storage systems, medical imaging equipment and other custom-designed, hardwired devices -- so-called embedded systems -- may soon be available with Advanced Micro Devices' 32/64-bit Opteron processor.
The chipmaker Tuesday announced it is adding Opteron, which has been widely successful in traditional server platforms, to its embedded line-up. AMD already offers low-power Alchemy and Geode chips for embedded systems. The Opteron provides a higher-performing option, says David Rich, AMD's director of 64-bit embedded markets.
AMD is not modifying Opteron for the embedded market, but rather extending the availability of certain models of the chip, a requirement for embedded systems that have longer lifecycles than traditional hardware. Instead of being available for just two or three years, select Opteron models will be available for as long as seven years, Rich says.
"Embedded systems tend to be designed, tested and qualified, and once they're sold nobody wants to change them," he says. "In fact, oftentimes you can't change them without going through another mandated prequalification process."
By bringing Opteron to the embedded market, AMD is competing with proprietary chip vendors such as Motorola and IBM, as well as Intel, which has been selling its x86-based Xeon processor into the embedded market for some time.
Rich says AMD sees a big market in x86-based embedded systems and believes its Opteron processor, with technologies such as its integrated memory controller, which accelerates communication between the chip and memory, and HyperTransport, an open I/O interface that speeds up processing within the chip, will provide users with performance they don't have today.
That's important in devices such as storage servers, media equipment and medical imaging hardware where "moving data around is just as important as computing," says Rich.
"They need a lot of I/O bandwidth. They need a lot of memory bandwidth," he says. "As the description of Opteron started to appear we began to get inquires from various CTOs saying, 'We like what you're doing and we think it could solve our problem.'"
Sun is planning to base its upcoming Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture blade platform on Opteron, and embedded systems maker Win Enterprises has developed an Opteron-based motherboard, Rich says.
"When we talk 'embedded,' we tend to think small and low-power, but there are also high-performance embedded applications such as large disk array controllers and the like. In addition, some mainstream business customers require systems and processors with the extended lifecycle support normally associated with embedded," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "There's demand for Opteron processors in many market segments -- including embedded ones -- so it makes sense for AMD to add Opteron to its embedded lineup, just as Intel has had Xeon processors as part of its embedded line for some time."
AMD says Opteron models 252 and 852, for one- to eight-way systems, will be the first to have long-term availability. Another model, the 152 for single-processor systems, will also be available under AMD's embedded program when it ships in April, Rich says.