AMD Set to Launch Dual-Core Opteron

Advanced Micro Devices on Thursday was set to introduce the fist six models of its Opteron microprocessor to feature two processing engines, or cores, on a single chip. As previously reported by the IDG News Service, the announcement is scheduled to occur at a press event to be held in New York the day before Opteron's second anniversary.

The Sunnyvale, California, chipmaker's first dual-core Opterons will be targeted at servers with four processors and will begin shipping over the next few weeks in Hewlett-Packard's ProLiant BL45p and DL585 systems and Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire V40z servers. The new Opteron processors that will power these systems will be the 1.8-GHz Model 865, the 2-GHz Model 870, and the 2.2-GHz Model 875.

Lower Clock Speeds

Although the performance of dual-core systems is expected to be significantly greater than that of comparable single-core boxes, dual-core Opterons will have lower clock speeds than single-core chips. AMD's fastest single-core processor, Model 852, runs at 2.6 GHz. If AMD had wanted to run its dual-core processors at a similar clock speed, the chips would have required much more power, analysts say.

Instead, the dual-core chips will draw a maximum of 95 watts, the same amount of power used by single-core Opteron processors, says Ben Williams, vice president of AMD's server and workstation business.

In fact, the dual-core Opterons are designed to be completely compatible with components designed for single-core processors, meaning that system vendors will be able to begin selling dual-core systems with a minimum of hassle, Williams says.

The new 800 series processors will be available in volume as of Thursday, and AMD plans to begin shipping three dual-core 200 series processors late next month. These chips, which are designed for 2-way servers, will be followed later this year by 100 series processors as well as a number of low-power dual-core Opterons designed for the high-density server and embedded markets, Williams says.

A dual-core processor for desktop users, called the Athlon 64 X2, will be launched in June, AMD says. It will ship in four models and will have clock speeds between 2.2 GHz and 2.4 GHz, the company says.

AMD vs. Intel

AMD and Intel have run a tight race to beat each other to market with their dual-core chips. Earlier this week PC vendors Dell and Alienware began shipping systems with Intel's first dual-core processor, the 3.2-GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 840.

The marketing blitz behind dual-core has turned out to be one of the more interesting aspects of this technology, says Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report, in San Jose, California. "They both launched their chips in the same week, which is pretty amusing," he says. "They're fighting tooth and nail."

"The reality is neither AMD nor Intel are first to the party," Krewell says. "In fact, they are late to the party for dual-core processors."' IBM and Sun Microsystems have been shipping dual-core servers since the advent of their Power4 and UltraSparc IV chips, and many other vendors, including Azul Systems, which this week unveiled systems based on a 24-core processor, have mastered the move to multi-core designs, he says.

Money Matters

Also of interest has been the question of what to charge for dual-core products. Many software vendors typically charge for their code on a per-processor basis, but there has thus far been no industry consensus on whether a dual-core system should be licensed as one processor or two. Dual-core systems typically have better performance than single-core machines, but they do not match the level one would typically get using two single-core chips.

Although AMD has strongly encouraged software vendors to set pricing based on the number of processors, not cores, it too has had to confront this question in deciding what to charge for the new dual-core chips. The most expensive single-core Opteron product, the Model 852, is currently priced at $1514 per processor when purchased in quantities of 1000 or more, AMD says. With dual-core processors, which are the same size as their single-core counterparts, that top-of-the-line pricing jumps to $2649 per chip.

Like the software vendors, AMD has needed to make some pricing adjustments in order to sell dual-core parts, says Margaret Lewis, a senior software strategist at AMD. In the case of the new Opterons, their performance boost justifies the cost increase, she says. "I would love to live in a world where we didn't charge any extra at all for dual-core," she says. "But if you look at some of the benchmarks, you'll see the utility that we're delivering with the processor. What we're trying to do is price for the utility that we deliver."

While AMD has told vendors to avoid pricing by processor core, "we have not said anything about them increasing the price of their software per processor," she says.

The price increase will not be as steep with AMD's 200 series, which will start at $851 per processor for the 1.8-GHz dual-core Model 265. This is the same price as the current top-of-the-line Opteron Model 252. Two other processors, the 2-GHz Model 270 and the 2.2-GHz Model 275, will be priced at $1051 and $1299, respectively.

The three upcoming dual-core 100 series processors--Models 164, 170, and 175--will be priced at $637, $799, and $999.

The one major Opteron vendor not shipping 800 series systems, IBM, says it plans to ship the 200 series Opteron processor in its IntelliStation A Pro 6217 workstation, which will begin shipping in June. It will also support dual-core Opterons in the IBM eServer 326 server. Pricing for the dual-core 6217 will start at $3259, IBM says. It declined to say what the cost of the eServer 326 would be.

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