Successful AMD Marriage?


The system builders, who requested anonymity, said they are evaluating two-socket blades that couple a programmable co-processor with AMD’s Opteron CPU.

“We are talking about ultra-high floating point for high-performance computing,” said a sales executive at one system builder. This executive noted that a co-processor setup is the kind of deep customization work that can differentiate a system builder’s business from those of top-tier OEMs.

Officials at AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif., declined to comment on unannounced products but confirmed that there are companies looking to match up co-processors with its Opteron CPUs—and the chip maker has been encouraging such experimentation. An AMD spokeswoman said the company plans to show off some of the technology at a briefing for financial analysts and press scheduled for June 1.

One system builder testing the technology said commitments to productize the technology have yet to be made. He said testing is being done to check the viability of the option for the HPC space, which includes entertainment render farms, gas and oil exploration, biological applications and financial modeling, among others.

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Doug O’Flaherty, division manager for acceleration strategy at AMD’s Advanced Technology Group, said innovations such as pairing an Opteron with a co-processor are possible because of AMD’s HyperTransport technology.

HyperTransport provides a fast and direct connection to a system’s I/O and between processors in a two-socket system, O’Flaherty said. Plugging a co-processor into the second socket gives that device a fast, low-latency connection to the system. The co-processor can tap the same memory and power resources available to the Opteron CPU.

System builders said this option is preferable to an add-in card, which operates on the slower PCI bus. They added that the extra socket is ideal for low-profile blades where add-in cards are discouraged.

Last month, XtremeData, Schaumburg, Ill., and DRC, Santa Clara, Calif., showed co-processors that plug into an Opteron socket. Both offer Field-Programmable Gate Arrays, which are logical chips that can be programmed to perform a specific function. One system builder said a likely scenario for the chips would be for the customer to do the intricate programming to accelerate an application while the system builder customizes the hardware.