AMD doubles down with Athlon MP

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) Tuesday moved into the server and multiprocessor workstation markets with its 1GHz and 1.2GHz Athlon MP (multiprocessor) chips, as well as the AMD-760 MP chipset for the new processors. It is AMD’s first chipset to support multiple processors on a single motherboard.

The company unveiled the products here during the Computex Taipei 2001 trade show, where Taiwan’s many motherboard and system vendors are showing off their wares at Asia’s largest IT show of the year. Ed Ellet, AMD’s vice president for workstation and server marketing, said the introduction marks a turning point in the processor industry toward across-the-board competition that will drive all competitors to greater things.

“On a global scale, today’s announcement may seem to signal a small change in a large industry, but let me remind you that ours is a key industry, and one that has been held back for years by predatory competitive practices,” Ellet said.

“The effect of today’s launch … will help to change the competitive environment in our industry,” he said.

The new chipset will support up to two processors, and is aimed at use inside PCs for the engineering, digital content creation (DCC) and financial markets, Linda Kohout, brand manager for AMD said in an interview in the United States on Monday. “We’re specifically going after the financial market, the people who need accuracy of our floating-point capabilities,” she added. AMD has also extended its 3DNow offerings to include 3DNow Professional on the new Athlon MP processors, for CAD (computer-assisted design) and DCC applications.

The MP architecture is designed to have the “processor working in concert with the chipset,” Kohout said. Neither processor is idle when the other is in use, and the first processor can use the memory cache of the second processor if it needs to, she added.

The chipset also has a cache coherency protocol, which lets data transfer smoothly when data from one processor is needed by the other, and when data is shared between the two, reducing memory traffic and increasing bandwidth.

The company’s offerings will focus on the entry-level server market, of one and two-processor systems. “They are natural places for us to try and put our systems in place,” Kohout said.

“We’re also enabling specific frequencies that our enterprise customers are asking for, and we’ll be offering them for a period of time that’s acceptable to them,” she said, noting that the company will stick to the architecture behind the chips until at least 2003.

More than 20 server vendors, including Alienware Corp., Boldata Technology Inc. and Racksaver Inc. will begin offering Athlon MP servers immediately, with others, including VA Linux Systems Inc., to follow. However, top-tier vendors such as IBM Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. are not among them.

“We are working with some of the larger OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), but a lot of them are more picky,” Kohout said.

Tyan Computer Corp. is showing at Computex its Thunder K7 motherboard based on the Athlon MP and AMD-760 chipset. Symon Chang, president of Tyan, said the DDR memory and independent data paths between each processor and the memory are attractive features in the AMD chipset. The Thunder K7 can be equipped with one or two processors, in versions for general-purpose and rack-mounted servers and for workstations.

Because this is AMD’s first venture into the server market, it is not unusual to start off with smaller vendors, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research Inc. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about AMD, it’s just reflecting normal (risk averseness),” McCarron said. Large OEMs can’t afford to ship out servers without rigorous testing beforehand, as many of the servers will be used in mission-critical settings, he added. “We’ve seen the same thing happen with components from Intel (Corp.)”

Although some vendors may have built servers using AMD chips in the past, the company has not had a significant role in that market, said Martin Booth, product marketing manager in AMD’s Computation Products group.

“To get into the mainstream part of the server and workstation market, you need a dual processor,” Booth said at the event in Taipei.

AMD touted its Socket A architecture as a key advantage for the large enterprises that will use Athlon MP servers. Socket A will remain AMD’s architecture through 2002 and the company will offer a smooth migration path to its next-generation, 64-bit Hammer processors, the company said. That continuity means less work for IS managers, especially those in charge of commercial servers, Booth said.

“If you have the same architecture, then you don’t have to re-certify your software,” he said.

Einux Inc., a Los Angeles-based maker of rack-mounted servers, unveiled at the Taipei event its A.Serv 1U Dual Athlon MP Server. System makers will use it as the basis for rack-mounted servers that will become available over the next month in the United States and Asia, according to Rex Wong, president and CEO of Einux.

“The AMD is far superior in performance to the Pentium 3 or Pentium 4, and the Pentium 4 is not available in dual yet,” said Wong. Meanwhile, the Athlon is priced similarly to the Pentium 3, he added.

Wong is optimistic about AMD’s plans for server processors.

“Still 80 per cent of our platforms are Intel, but we really believe AMD’s roadmap is much stronger,” Wong said.

The next generation of AMD’s Duron processor, intended today for use in lower priced desktop and notebook PCs, will also be able to take advantage of the performance of the 760 MP chipset, Ellett said in answer to a question following the Taipei event.

Servers and workstations are available immediately, with individual chips priced at US$215 for the 1GHz processor and US$265 for the 1.2GHz processor. Both prices are in 1,000 unit quantities, a standard measurement in chip pricing.

AMD, in Sunnyvale, Calif., can be contacted at Tyan, in Fremont, Calif., can be reached at Einux, in Los Angeles, can be reached at