AMD Intros Low-Power Opterons, Moves Up Six-Core Release

server Opteron

AMD also confirmed that it will be moving up the release date of a six-core Opteron processor, code-named Istanbul, to June, as reported last month on Istanbul will ship to AMD partners in May, with systems built on the six-core processor expected in June, said Pat Patla, general manager of AMD's server business unit, speaking Wednesday at a press event at the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters.

The next big milestone on the Opteron road map, a processor code-named Magny-Cours that comes in eight-core and 12-core flavors, is being sampled to partners and will be officially released in the first quarter of 2010, Patla said. Sample systems featuring the new EE chips, the six-core Istanbuls and the 12-core Magny-Cours parts were up and running at AMD's campus Wednesday.

Magny-Cours will be a 45-nm processor that utilizes a new server platform, code-named Maranello. It in turn is followed on in 2011 by a 32-nm chip called Interlagos that boasts from 12 to 16 cores, according to AMD's revised product roadmap. That product arc marks a transition to a new processor socket and platform for AMD, which later this year begins producing its own server chipsets, code-named Fiorano, to support the new Opterons. Currently, only Nvidia and Broadcom make server chipsets for Opteron-based servers.

The two EE processors are part of a new batch of 45nm, quad-core Opterons, formerly code-named Shanghai. Designed for extremely dense computing environments such as cloud computing installations, the Opteron 2373 EE is a 2.1GHz chip, and the Opteron 2377 is a 2.3GHz part, both in the 40W band. AMD on Wednesday also released a pair of 105W, 3.1GHz Opterons for high-performance installations, the 2393 SE for two-socket servers and the 8393 SE for 4P and 8P systems. Eight more Shanghai-generation Opterons ranging from 2.4GHz to 2.9GHz were unveiled -- four in the 55W HE category and four in AMD's mainstream thermal band of 75W.

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All of the new chips feature AMD's latest virtualization and power-saving features while remaining socket-compatible with the original Opteron family of server chips released in 2003 -- six years to the day, in fact, that AMD lifted the curtain on its latest quad-cores.

The combination of full features across the Shanghai family, the availability of the low-power EE parts in quad core and the "investment protection" of platform compatibility were stressed by Patla as a counterpoint to AMD rival Intel's new Nehalem-class server chips. The top parts in Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's new Xeon 5500 series are quad cores featuring new technologies such as TurboBoost, but further down in the bin, Intel reverts to dual-core configurations for its lowest-power chips and features such as TurboBoost and multithreading aren't present.

AMD's financial and technical troubles are well known. The company, which hasn't had a positive quarter for several years, lost another $414 million in its just-concluded first quarter -- though that loss, in the context of a steep, global drop in microprocessor demand, seems to have actually been smaller than Wall Street expected. AMD was $1.44 billion in the red in the fourth quarter of 2008.

The company's first-quarter earnings report, filed Tuesday, was AMD's first since spinning off its manufacturing assets with the help of Abu Dhabi-based investors to form a new company called Globalfoundries. The less debt-burdened "AMD, the product company," as CEO Dirk Meyer designated his charge Tuesday to distinguish it from the new manufacturing entity, was hoped to return to profitability by year's end before the global economic downturn intervened. While Globalfoundries is still counted on AMD's balance sheet for the time being, Meyer and Co. said they still hope to finish the second half of 2009 in the black.

Meanwhile, the pain of AMD's original Barcelona debacle doesn't seem to have lost its sting at the company's headquarters. Already beset by delays prior to its September 2007 release, AMD's first lineup of quad-core chips was also crippled by a bug that caused further delays until new silicon could be revved in early 2008.

"We had a lot to answer for," said one AMD executive at Wednesday's event in Sunnyvale.

The main way AMD appears to be answering for the Barcelona disaster is by hitting its product road map targets and, whenever possible, beating them. The first Shanghai-class Opterons were released last November, a full quarter ahead of schedule.

By pulling in the Istanbul and Magny-Cours release dates, AMD seems as eager as ever to put Barcelona in the rearview mirror. And so far, no glitches.