updated 10:20 am EDT, Mon September 10, 2007
AMD Quad-Core Opteron
AMD on Monday renewed its challenge to Intel with the advent of the Quad-Core Opteron, the first-ever true four-core processor based on the x86 platform and a design the chipmaker says is the most advanced of its kind. Unlike Intel's Xeon 5300 series, which grafts together two dual-core CPUs, the new Opteron is based on a real quad-core design with direct connections between each of the individual chips. This prevents cores from having to travel across the much slower system bus to share data and greatly improves performance in situations where more than two cores have to share work, AMD says. Each full processor also shares a 2MB L3 cache -- a technology just reintroduced to AMD chips -- and as many as three HyperTransport links that provide a quick link of up to 8GB per second between the processor and different devices on the mainboard. Overall performance has jumped by as much as 50 percent in floating-point and integer math compared to the best Opterons and Intel's Xeons even with a lower clock speed, AMD claims.
The platform, nicknamed "Barcelona," also brings in hardware acceleration of virtualization for running more than one OS instance on the same processor and a new, much more power-efficient architecture: borrowing from the concepts behind mobile processors, AMD's CoolCore selectively shuts down unneeded parts of the processor and combines with a technique that ramps down the clock speeds of individual cores depending on their individual tasks. Chips peak at 75 watts of average power consumption versus the 100-plus of earlier Opterons.
AMD is shipping the chip today in two versions rated to support as many as two discrete processors or eight depending on their focus. The 2300 series will emphasize heavy-duty workstations and mid-range servers and should range from a 1.7GHz high-efficiency version to a 2GHz top model at prices between $206 and $372 each in batches of 1,000. The server-friendly 8300 series ranges between 1.8GHz and 2GHz at prices between $688 and $1,004. Systems are expected to appear as soon as tomorrow and will include models from Dell, Gateway, and ultimately Sun Microsystems; one of the few exceptions is Apple, which is currently one of the few top-tier vendors to sell only Intel systems.
The semiconductor firm expects more companies to sign on to developing Quad-Core Opteron systems and plans to release both a 1300-series Opteron and the home-oriented Phenom processor by December, which should bring the platform to mainstream desktops.