AMD pushes Opteron for embedded systems

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) has spotted a new market opportunity for its Opteron microprocessor. On Tuesday, the Sunnyvale, California, chip maker was set to announce a new program designed to make Opteron more attractive to developers of custom-designed embedded devices.

Under the program, certain models of the Opteron will now be available to system manufacturers for as long as seven years, the same amount of time as the Alchemy and Geode chips that AMD sells for embedded systems, according to David Rich, director of 64-bit embedded markets.

Opteron chips are normally supported for just two or three years, but makers of embedded systems have longer product lifecycles than server or PC vendors and they generally require that the processors they use be available for a longer period of time, he said.

Customers have been interested in using the Opteron outside of the general-purpose server and workstation market since the product was first announced, Rich said. “As soon as we started to talk about Opteron in technical conferences and semi-public areas, we started to get inquiries from CTOs in the storage and communications area,” he said.

Opteron uses the same x86 instruction set as Intel Corp.’s 32-bit processors, but it also has extra instructions that allow it to process data in 64-bit mode, a technique that Intel itself has started to emulate.

The AMD chip’s integrated memory controller, which speeds up communication between the processor and memory, and HypterTransport infrastructure, which is used for communication between nonmemory system components, make the processor particularly appealing for devices that need to process large amounts of data, Rich said.

Storage appliances and medical imaging devices are two areas where there has been interest in the processor, Rich said. “Many of the high end applications are as much about moving data around the systems as they are about computing. In the other architectures there were a large number of bottlenecks,” he said.

Opteron may be attractive to embedded designers because of its lower power consumption and high bandwidth, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64 in Saratoga, California. “When you put all that together, it makes a very compelling offering, especially for those who are building storage appliances or network-type appliance offerings.”

Sun Microsystems Inc. has decided to use Opteron for its upcoming blade servers based on the ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture) telecommunications standard. The Santa Clara, California company also plans to use Opteron in a storage appliance, code-named Honeycomb, that it is developing Rich said. Win Enterprises Inc. has also developed an Opteron-based motherboard for the embedded market, he added.

The Opteron 852 and 252 will be the first processors available with the long-term option. Another model, the 152, will also be available under the embedded program when it ships in April, AMD said.

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