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AMD, Intel Prime New x86 64-bit Chips

The chip war between Intel and AMD is heating up Monday with the release of competing x86 64-bit processors.

Both companies are offering their latest round of chips designed for workhorse servers. Intel has created a Xeon dual processor (DP) with 2 megabytes (MB) of L2 cache, code-named Irwindale, while AMD has released a new Opteron series, including the 852, 452 and 252 chips.

Each one has its own set of major OEMs announcing products as well as sales ties with many other leading system manufacturers worldwide.

While both Silicon Valley-based companies compete ferociously in the 32-bit space, it wasn't until Intel revealed that it would produce 64-bit software extensions for its Pentium and Xeon processor family that the x86 64-bit market really turned into a real horse race.

"We've shipped about 2 million 64-bit Xeons since launching in August 2004," Intel spokesman Mike Houlihan told internetnews.com. "That is Intel's fastest enterprise ramp ever. So, customer demand for the platform has been extraordinary. Also, we're looking ahead to dual core, and we will be "seeding" dual-core 64-bit Intel Xeon processor-based platforms by the thousands later this year."

In the latest skirmish, Intel is maneuvering its dual-processor and multi-processor Xeon chips as a complement to its RISC-replacement Itanium processor. Last week, Intel announced it would ship its Xeon multiprocessor, code-named Potomac, with 8MB L3 cache and its Twin Castle chipset in about 90 days.

AMD is equally aggressive with its Opteron chips for 4-way and 2-way systems. The new Opteron chips blur the lines of Xeon features with AMD's long awaited support for multimedia and 3D enhancement SSE3 (Streaming SIMD Extensions). AMD is also boasting support of more than 300 independent software vendors and open source software organizations with more than 1,000 software packages readily available for its 32-bit backward compatible chips.

The No. 2 chipmaker also unveiled its companion AMD 8132 tunnel chipset, which gives the latest round of Opteron processors PCI-X 2.0 connectivity, better remote access service capabilities and improved HyperTransport technology. Nvidia is the first AMD partner on board for the new designs with its graphics add-on. Broadcom and other AMD chipset partners are expected to serve up their compatible technologies in the second quarter of this year.

"You'll also see us really push performance per-watt this year." Margaret Lewis, a software strategy manager with AMD told internetnews.com. "Our customers really understand that power translates into cost and we're offering savings as much as 300 percent over our competition in some configurations."

Server vendors like IBM and HP were eager to embrace both processor families. Big Blue, for example, is recasting five of its existing xSeries servers with technology from the new Xeon DP, taking advantage of the new chip's 2 megabytes of level 2 cache.

By the end of the month, eServer xSeries systems x226, x236, x336 and x346, as well as BladeCenter HS20, will be offered with the new Xeon chip.

Stuart McRae, manager OF IBM eServer xSeries, said the doubled cache will lend a performance boost of 18 percent to IBM servers. Moreover, he said the upgraded servers leverage two new utilities in the chip, Demand Based Switching (DBS) and Execute Disable Bit (XD).

DBS helps the new Xeon better manage processing power to reduce cooling costs in the datacenter. For example, if an application requires less power at night, DBS would automatically lower the power utilization of the application to pare power consumption and costs. XD offers virus protection from buffer overflow system security and worm attacks.

Likewise, IBM (the first major vendor to offer AMD Opteron processor-based servers) said its A-Pro IntelliStation and the IBM e326, has been designed to support the AMD dual-core specification. IBM also said AMD's Opteron helps eServer technology like Xtended Design architecture meet customers' performance per watt needs.

HP is also covering its bases with support for both new Xeon and Opteron chips. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said it will offer blade servers for its BladeSystems based on the Opteron chips. Even though their pin counts are different, HP's new Opteron BL25p and BL35p blades are similar in design to its current portfolio of Xeon-based BL20p and BL30p blades.

HP said it is also outfitting its ProLiant DL385 and new HP xw9300 Workstation with Opteron chips.

"We're setting the stage for the next generation of performance, these systems are designed with dual core in mind, providing our customers with a compelling choice when it comes to meeting their most demanding x86 performance needs," Paul Miller, vice president of marketing, Industry Standard Servers and BladeSystem at HP said in a statement.

Those vendors sitting in the one-chip category include Sun and Dell .

Sun, which is reportedly selling more Opteron systems than anyone else, said it will configure its Sun Java Workstation W1100z, Sun Java Workstation W2100z, the 2-way Sun Fire V20z server and the 4-way Sun Fire V40z server to handle the newest AMD Opteron processors.

Dell meantime continues to be an Intel-only shop. Intel said the Round Rock, Texas-based company will offer a series of servers based on the new Xeon. AMD confirmed that Dell is still kicking Opteron's tires but will not be releasing any server products based on AMD chips at this time.