AMD answers Intel with six-core

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is shipping its six-core “Istanbul” processor for servers, which it boasted was specifically designed for virtualization, database and other high-performance workloads.

In a launch event Monday, AMD officially rolled out the next iteration of its Opteron chipset, code-named Istanbul, boasting that the processor arrived more than five months ahead of schedule. The company added that the six-core chip will offer 30 per cent faster performance than the four-core Shanghai chipset, while consuming about the same amount of power.

The chips will be offered in two-socket, four-socket, and eight-socket configurations and are expected to be available immediately from OEMs including Cray Inc., Dell Corp., HP Inc., IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Dirk Meyer, president and CEO of AMD, said the chip was designed directly in response to customers looking for more performance per watt and better total cost of ownership.

“We have delivered a really good product here,” he said. “The performance per watt is stunning.”

The fact that Istanbul is based on the existing Opteron platform should make upgrading easy, company executives added.

AMD said that six cores will allow application to better segment workloads into smaller tasks, which fits perfectly in virtualized and cloud environments, according to John Fruehe, director of server business at AMD. With operating systems and applications becoming more threaded, he added, the need for more cores is becoming increasingly vital.

But despite the hoopla over the new six-core chip, AMD executives were also quick to point out the continued viability of the company’s quad-core “Shanghai” processors, which underwent significant price cuts last week.

Rounding out the notable features found in Istanbul is a technology called HT Assist, which reduces the need to probe filter traffic between processors when making a cache request for a particular piece of data.

The six-core Opteron launch is a significant one for AMD and its race to remain competitive against Intel Corp., according to Shane Rau, program director of computing, networking and storage semiconductors at IDC Corp.

According to IDC’s first quarter 2009 numbers, Intel holds 89.3 per cent of the global server processor market share, with AMD covering the other 10.7 per cent of the space.

“At the height of AMD’s participation in the market in 2006, they had a quarter of the market at 25 per cent, so they lost a monster share since that time,” Rau said.

The Istanbul launch comes several months behind Intel Corp.’s six-core Dunnington processor. And just last week, Intel also unveiled details on its eight-core Nehalem-EX server processor, which is due out in 2010.

But if AMD stays on schedule with its server roadmap, it should be ready with its 12-core Magny-Cours processor by the time Nehalem-EX hits the market.

By launching the six-core chip ahead of schedule, Rau added, AMD is looking to erase the impact of its quad-core Barcelona release, which was delayed. As the market continues to segment and processing power stretches into eight-core and 12-core chipsets, AMD’s ability to follow its roadmap and target the various needs of its customers will dictate how quickly the company rebounds, he added.

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