GuidesHardware Today: AMD Eats Into Intel's Server Chip Monopoly

Hardware Today: AMD Eats Into Intel’s Server Chip Monopoly

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What a difference two years can make. AMD chips were once firmly positioned as an inexpensive Intel desktop alternative and not ordinarily deployed in an enterprise environment. Sound R&D and excellent marketing is changing that perception.

In the two years since Opteron’s launch, AMD has cut a large slice out of Intel’s processor pie. What else is the chip vendor planning to serve?

As a result, Intel’s server chip monopoly is looking a little fragile. In its nearly two years on the market, the AMD Opteron processor has gained more than 5 percent of the worldwide x86 server market according to Gartner Dataquest, and Opteron now claims more than 20 percent of the 4-way server market in North America.

“More than 40 percent of the top-100 global companies or their affiliates as ranked by the Forbes Global 2000 are now customers of AMD-processor-based systems,” said Pat Patla, server/workstation marketing manager at AMD. “Customers running AMD systems include Deutsche Bank, ConocoPhillips, ChevronTexaco, Yahoo!, SingTel, Renault, and British Telecom.”

AMD64 is the architecture on which AMD’s eigth-generation processors (i.e., Opteron, Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, and Turion 64) are based. AMD64 was introduced when Opteron first launched in April 2003. Opteron can power x86 applications in both 32- and 64-bit environments. Its flavors span the 100 series (1-way), the 200 series (up to 2-way), and the 800 series (up to 8-way).

“Direct Connect gives AMD a substantial performance edge over Intel. Intel’s very definitely late to this party and won’t get there until around 2007.” — Nathan Brookwood, Insight64.

The Opteron comes with AMD’s Direct Connect Architecture, which consists of several facets that increase memory address space and eliminate the bottlenecks inherent in front-side-bus-based architectures. HyperTransport technology directly connects CPUs, making it possible to reach up to 24.0 GB per second peak bandwidth per processor.

In addition, integrating the memory controller onto the CPU changes the way the processor accesses the main memory. The result of this is increased bandwidth, reduced memory latencies, and increased processor performance. According to AMD, this enables Opteron to surpass most competitive processors that rely on faster speeds or bigger Level 2 and Level 3 caches.

“Direct Connect gives AMD a substantial performance edge over Intel,” said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64. “Intel’s very definitely late to this party and won’t get there until around 2007.”

AMD did not invent the concept of a direct connect architecture, but it has effectively incorporated into its x64 designs what DEC, IBM, and Sun had done previously with their proprietary RISC processors.

Another feature of the Opteron is PowerNow, which manages power consumption.

AMD claims a huge cost savings for Opteron vs. Xeon in a data center. For example, it believes the Opteron processor would deliver a savings of $35,000 per year for a data center with 500 two-way systems, compared to a data center with 500 two-way systems based on Intel Xeon EM64T processors. This is based on energy costs — $250 to run and cool an Opteron for a year vs. $321 to run two Intel Xeon EM64T processors.

According to Brookwood, AMD can throttle an Opteron down to around 800 MHz, where it uses only about 20 watts. Intel’s “Demand Based Switching,” on the other hand, drops a 3-GHz-plus Xeon to 2 GHz and cuts its power consumption down to about 70 watts. Multiply that 50 watt savings by the number of CPUs in a rack, and it adds up quickly. The Opteron is also available in two low-power versions — the HE (highly efficient) 55-watt model and the EE (energy efficient) 30-watt model.

>> Up Against Intel

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