AMD releases ultra-low power Istanbul Opteron chip

New six-core version of Istanbul Opteron processor announced

AMD Inc. announced Monday an ultra-low power version of its six-core Istanbul Opteron processors, targeted at cloud computing customers.

The power-efficient 40-watt AMD Opteron EE is designed for dense server deployments where low-power is a top concern, said Gina Longoria, senior product manager for server workstation with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD.

Customers of Opteron EE will reap up to 30 per cent higher performance and performance per watt compared to quad-core Opteron chips, said Longoria.

And, with an improvement in density, Opteron EE will allow customers up to 40 per cent greater density. "For those customers who have power or space constraints, the EE is a great solution," said Longoria.

The processor comes to market a month after the release of six-core Opteron SE and Opteron HE in July. Opteron HE is also targeted at Web 2.0 and cloud computing environments but is designed to give a balance of performance and power optimization. The higher-end Opteron SE targets power-consumptive data centres running compute-intensive applications like high-performance computing and virtualization.

Longoria said AMD is offering customers the options they are looking for "from very high performance to very low power to something in the middle."

The release of the ultra-low power version Opteron processor aligns with a shift in customer interest for power-efficient data centres where CIOs are increasingly asked to reign in costs associated with thermal load and power usage, said Bart Arnold, senior manager for server product marketing with AMD.

"Five or six years ago, it was all about performance, it was all about frequency. It was a very benchmark-driven market," said Arnold.

He said AMD has identified a new group of customers in the market besides the traditional customer running heavy workloads and virtualized environments of more than 50 virtual machines. This new group isn't necessarily looking for top-level performance and "doesn't need a core that cranks out the same stuff that a server running an ERP does," said Arnold.

Last April, AMD said it would roll-out two products in 2010, instead of just one, to respond to demand for power-efficient products. "The market has bifurcated to the point that you really need two products to adequately address it," said Arnold.

AMD is still set to launch the high-end Magny-Cours, officially called AMD Opteron 6000 series, in the first quarter of 2010. But Arnold said the company will also launch that same year "about a quarter later" the power-efficient AMD Opteron 4000 series, known as Lisbon.

Arnold said to expect announcements, over the next four to six months, from AMD about how it intends to address this bifurcation in the market.

As with Monday's launch of the ultra-low power Opteron EE processor, Magny-Cours and Lisbon will also sport a full-feature set -- same core count, memory speed and cache levels -- regardless of power band.

"We're not going to do as our competitor does, as you work your way down into lower wattages, you're giving up things like memory speed and hyper-transport speed," said Arnold, referring to Santa Clara, Calif.-based rival chip maker Intel Corp.

AMD's release of six-core Opteron HE, SE and EE comes several months after Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. announced its six-core Dunnington processor. Intel also recently revealed details on its eight-core Nehalem-EX server processor due in 2010.

The customer base for AMD's high-end offerings has traditionally been quite small, and Longoria expects that to shrink as the shift toward buying low-power offerings continue.

"The people who are really looking at benchmarks alone and raw performance are decreasing over time, so you'll see that trend continue to be more focused on the lower-power or balanced approach of performance per watt," said Longoria.

That being the case, Longoria said AMD's approach to the server market will take a balanced approach moving forward, with no particularly heavier focus on power-efficient products.

While power savings is increasingly a priority, customers still care for performance as well, said Longoria, "but they need performance that is relevant for their workload."

According to John Sloan, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., although the recession is curbing spending on servers, cloud computing is showing continual growth, whether that's external or internal clouds.

But cloud computing, said Sloan, brings forth the issue of thermal overhead resulting from the density of amassing all that server horsepower into a small space.

"Everyone is concerned with green IT," said Sloan. "The Opteron EE line has certain appeal to anybody trying to cut power usage. If you're creating a very dense environment, it just becomes more acute."

"(AMD is) focusing on one of the few opportunities," said Sloan.

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Kathleen Lau

ComputerWorld Canada

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