Barcelona debuts

Enterprise customers are prioritizing power consumption over performance issues, which is what’s driving Advanced Micro Devices’ design and sales strategy for multi-core processors like its Barcelona chip, according to one of the firm’s senior executives.

AMD launched Barcelona, the latest in its Opteron line, on Sept. 10.

AMD’s worldwide market development manager of server/workstation products, John Fruehe, told ComputerWorld Canada that the chip will include a number of features designed to improve energy efficiency inside corporate data centres. This includes technology that will allow the chip to set four individual clock speeds, he said.

Less power

For example, he said, one of Barcelona’s four cores might be running at 75 per cent of its maximum speed while another could be running at 30 per cent, a third at 10 per cent and one could be idle. Fruehe said this would help balance the power that would normally be required to have all cores running at the same speed, which is what usually happens in traditional chip design.

AMD is also highlighting what it calls “cool core” technology in Barcelona which looks at the code that’s being processed. If there are areas on the chip that aren’t being utilized, it shuts those areas down.

The introduction of Barcelona sets the stage for a major multi-core processor war between AMD and its much larger rival, Intel, which debuted the Xeon 7300 chip, called Tigerton, days before Barcelona. Tigerton, which follows Intel’s release of the quad-core Clovertown last year, is designed to be used in servers with four or more processors.

Barcelona, meanwhile, has four processor cores on a single piece of silicon, or die, compared to Clovertown, which straps together twin dual-core dies inside a single package. In an interview with IDG News Service, Kirk Skaugen, the general manager of Intel’s Server Platforms Group, dismissed the design differences.

“I can make lots of arguments for why [you might want] more elegance [in the design] and higher performance, but if I’m nine months late you blow that whole advantage away,” Skaugen said, noting that a Barcelona die is likely more complicated and more expensive to produce than Clovertown.

Fruehe said that Barcelona will have to catch up with Clovertown, but he said it will be worth the wait.

“Gluing two cores together gets you time to market,” he admitted. “We’ll be offering much better scalability and performance. It’s really quad core done right. Would I have liked to have it out at the beginning of the year? Of course I would have, but this was about making sure it was done right and not cutting any corners.”

Memory tricks

The new Opterons will also include a memory controller built directly into the processor, which means the logic in the product can turn off the “write” capability when it’s in “read” mode, and vice-versa. T

This happens without any software or interaction with the user’s OS, he said. Dual dynamic power management, meanwhile, will allow OEMs to do a “split plane” design that would open one route for power to go to the core and one to the memory. Fruehe said this would offer a 10 per cent performance gain.

Rapid virtualization indexing, meanwhile, will allow data to speak directly to the memory rather than go through a translation layer within the virtualization software’s hypervisor. This will also make systems run faster, Fruehe said.

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