AMD launches energy-efficient Shanghai Opteron EE processor

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker AMD Inc. on Wednesday – the sixth anniversary of the birth of its Opteron processor – released its lowest-power chip to date based on the Shanghai core, the AMD Opteron EE, while touting a focus on efficient performance rather than maximum performance.

The 40W processor, the latest addition to AMD’s 45nm quad-core Opteron processor line, is targeted at customers with dense cloud computing environments. Those customers would be the likes of Microsoft Corp. or Amazon that run their own cloud computing services for businesses that prefer to outsource their IT environments to the cloud, said Steve Demski, product marketing manager with AMD.

“We see a definite growth in cloud computing,” said Demski. “It’s growing at six times faster than the average IT spend.”

With this release, the company is not striving for maximum performance, he said, but to provide a balanced architecture for high transactional demands. “It’s a good balance of compute, memory, I/O, network and storage. But at the same time we are offering the full virtualization capabilities that we offer throughout the rest of our stack,” said Demski.

Basically, the new processor is as full-featured as the company’s higher-power offerings – 55W, 75W, 105W – and is designed to render high density at lower power consumption. In fact, the low power market has grown for AMD, compared to several years ago, according to Demski, and currently accounts for 25-30 per cent of sales.

By contrast, he said rival chipmaker Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp.’s lowest power part is only 60W and lacks features found in higher Watt processors. “We think we offer the best performance per Watt per dollar,” said Demski.

Features in the 40W processor include AMD-V for rapid virtualization indexing and extended migration. And, newly-branded AMD-P power-enhancing features like CoolCore to shut of what is not being utilized, Smart Fetch that lets idle cores sleep, and Power Cap to lock out higher-voltage and power-consuming states of the CPU.

James Staten, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, thinks that both AMD and Intel are doing their part to make their processors as power efficient as possible, and system makers now offer a wide array of systems optimized in design to meet different performance and efficiency objectives. “So, it’s up to enterprises to make the right choices that deliver the optimal gains for their workloads and environments,” said Staten.

There is an advantage to the low-power footprint of AMD’s latest processor, said Staten, as it allows for server designs that “are more performance/Watt, which is a key metric in very large data centres.”

However, that power efficiency is just one element in creating an overall efficient system, noted Staten, because other efficient components like power management and good efficiency practices must, too, be incorporated. “An organization that isn’t taking full advantage of the power management software and virtualization technologies available to them won’t see much difference between this CPU and one that consumes 100W,” he said.

John Sloan, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said that in the ongoing rivalry between AMD and Intel, Intel has “circled back and refocused” with its Nehalem-based Xeon 5500 processor chip launch in March, better enabling virtualization initiatives with enhanced memory and I/O.

And, like Staten, Sloan sees AMD’s newest power-efficient processor as helping data centres meet “those commodity metrics.”

That said, no matter how good the technology, the current economic climate will, with processors in general, affect server sales, said Sloan. Most companies likely would not be able to afford a full-scale rip and replace of processors in the servers, which is what is required to reap the full capabilities, he said.

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