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AMD’s Opteron to challenge Intel’s Xeon, Itanium

Opinion
Mar 25, 20033 mins
Networking

* A glimpse into AMD's upcoming Opteron server processor

AMD is still planning to release its 32/64-bit Opteron server processor next month.

While much is already known about the processor that AMD expects to compete with Intel’s Itanium and Xeon processors, details on its pricing and the results of many performance benchmarks are still unknown.

The Opteron will be AMD’s first processor built specifically for use in servers. It will be used in one- to eight-processor servers and will be built using 0.13-micron Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) technology. AMD plans a 0.09-micron SOI processor in the first half of 2004.

The processor will also use HyperTransport technology, which helps eliminate system bottlenecks. Each server will contain three HyperTransport interconnects, bringing aggregate performance to 19.2G bit/sec, according to AMD.

The company’s one-processor Opteron will be called the 100 Series; the two-way the 200 Series and the eight-way the 800 series. Users will be able to tell the relative performance of the Opteron by its model number – a Model 244, for example, will offer higher performance than a 242. 

Perhaps the most important feature of the Opteron is its ability to run in 32- or 64-bit mode. Most applications in use today on PC platforms, though, are 32-bit. For those applications, AMD says the 32/64-bit processor offers a migration path to 64-bit computing.

A few applications – such as databases, ERP, CRM, scientific modeling and highly intensive graphics applications – should benefit from the extra oomph of 64-bit operations.

AMD claims that 32-bit applications will operate just as fast on Opteron as they would on 32-bit platforms. This flies in the face of Intel’s claims that 32-bit applications will run more slowly on 64-bit Itanium platforms than they would natively on 32-bit processors.

AMD has so far lined up a variety of second-tier systems vendors – such as Rackspace, RackSaver and Penguin Computing – that say they will use the Opteron. Still lacking, however, is support from any of the major systems vendors such as IBM, Dell, HP or Sun.

Sun is already basing its x86 blades on AMD processors. Of the large systems vendors, IBM and Sun are most likely to support Opteron first, sources say.

Right now, AMD has not released a list of applications written to Opteron, and it’s not widely known whether Oracle, SAP, SyBase or PeopleSoft will sign up to develop applications for the chipset. In 2002, IBM demonstrated a port of DB2 to run on Opteron, and Red Hat announced that its Linux would run on the processor. IBM is now in beta tests of DB2 on Opteron. 

Microsoft originally intended to support Opteron in its upcoming Windows 2003, but says now that Windows 2003 will not have Opteron support when it is released.

According to a presentation obtained on Google given by Fred Weber, vice president and CTO of AMD’s Computation Products Group, the Opteron processor operating at 2 GHz has an estimated performance of 1,202 on the SPECint 2000 test and 1170 on SPECfp 2000. The SPEC tests were developed by the Standard Performance Evaluation Council, a nonprofit group that develops standard benchmarks.

A presentation downloaded from AMD’s Analyst Days at the end of 2002 shows that AMD’s Opteron will be positioned against Intel’s Xeon and Xeon MP processors. Sledgehammer DP, the codename for the one- to two-processor servers will compete against Xeon. Sledgehammer MP will compete against the Xeon MP.