Based on an improved architecture, the Opteron 6000 series chips perform up to two times the level of AMD's previous generation six-core chips, said AMD Inc. An analyst thinks AMD has decided it wants to lead in processor innovation to broaden its market presence.
"(It's) a means of capturing market share and mindset in an attempt to conquer Intel and IBM's lead in this space," said Russ Conwath, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.
On Monday, the chip-maker launched its Opteron 6000 series, an eight- and 12-core x86 processor that's based on an improved Direct Connect Architecture and designed to address the cost, performance and power requirements of today's IT buyer.
Otherwise known as Magny-Cours, the processor performs at up to two times the level of AMD's previous generation 6-core processors, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company said.
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The Opteron 6000 series processors are also compatible with dual socket (2P) and four socket (4P) server designs. The bulk of the chip market has traditionally centred on 2P, but, with this release, AMD is changing how people perceive 4P computing by allowing them to reap the benefits of 4P but at a lower silicon cost, said Gina Longoria, director of product management for AMD's server and workstation division.
Having a single platform, 2P, won't cater to all customers, said Longoria. "You're not going to meet everybody's needs with a one-size-fits-all platform," she said.
According to Conwath, AMD's strategy to open up 4P to a broader market will greatly benefit virtualization and compute intensive applications because nowadays it's all about density not speed. "We are now in the processor-density age versus the previous processor-speed age," said Conwath.
Longoria said IT buyer needs are changing and AMD's strategy is to align with these morphing needs. On the higher end, customers want performance per watt and expandability without compromising value. Whereas on the lower end customers want energy efficiency. Opteron 6000 series chips cater to the high end. In Q2, AMD will launch its Opteron 4000 series, known as Lisbon and Valencia, for the lower end of the market.
"So we have aligned our product strategy to very closely line up with those specific buying needs," said Longoria.
With such a bifurcation in the market where customers are increasingly moving toward energy efficiency over high performance, Longoria said the trend won't affect AMD's standing. "I don't see we're going to see a gap at all," she said. "In fact, we were being more prescriptive about providing low-power options to customers. That will provide the benefit to AMD and will help us drive share in that area."
While the Opteron 4000 series caters to the lower end of the market, that's not to say the Opteron 6000 series doesn't have power management capabilities, said Longoria. It's just that the lead buying criteria for the 6000 series is more about performance and expandability. The 6000 series also has high efficiency (HE) models.
Among the enhancements to the Direct Connect Architecture 2.0 architecture is the inclusion of additional memory channels for better memory bandwidth to run programs faster.
Conwath said the improved architecture minimizes contention in a multi-processor environment while providing greater speed for accessing memory. "I believe that this is a significant change to architectural thinking, and if it is adopted by the marketplace, (it) could be a significant differentiator," said Conwath.
Meanwhile, Santa Clara, Calif.-based rival Intel Corp. announced earlier in March that it is set to launch its eight-core Nehalem EX server chip later in the month. Targeted at four-socket servers, each core can run two threads simultaneously, the company said. Like AMD's Magny-Cours, Intel's eight-core Nehalem EX server chip also has four memory channels per processor.
Already earlier in March, Intel unveiled its Xeon 5600 line of processors, known as Westmere, meant to be faster than the Xeon 5500 chips launched in March of 2009.
Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp. recently had a chip announcement of its own. It launched its eight-core Power 7 chip with two more cores compared to its predecessor Power 6. The chip also came with a new feature called TurboCore to boost the speed of active cores.
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