RealTime IT News

AMD Finds Its Way To Shanghai

Inside the Opteron.
Source: AMD

Embarrassing product delays can do wonders to light a fire under a company. AMD seems to be making very sure it doesn't repeat the comedy of errors that befell the delays with its Barcelona chips.

Some of the reasons for Barcelona's lateness was its ambition. AMD (NYSE: AMD) has admitted that it tried to do too much at once with the Quad Core Opteron, also known as Barcelona. But there were other failures, too, such as not getting OEM partners involved in the testing process early.

After a year of getting its tail kicked by analysts, investors, and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) over the delay, AMD got the message and isn't taking any chances with Shanghai, its next version.

"We came out with [Barcelona] a little too late and that left a bad taste in people's mouths," Steve Demski, product manager in the Server and Workstation Division at AMD told InternetNews.com. "So we want people to be able to transition to it quickly. We think we offer a lot of good benefits here."

The benefits come from the move to 45 nanometers. Intel made that move at the beginning of the year with the Penryn launch. AMD is just getting to it now. A smaller die size means less power draw and a greater clock speed.

As such, AMD is able to launch this new generation Quad Core Opteron at 2.7GHz, 200 MHz faster than it originally planned. One of the knocks on the Barcelona-era Opterons is they launched at a slow clock speed, 1.8GHz to 2.0Ghz.

With Shanghai's the higher clock speed and still running at 75 watts, AMD claims a 30 percent price performance upgrade over the prior generation. AMD plans to launch 55 watt and 105 watt versions in the first quarter of next year, along with new desktop products, details of which will come later.

Plus, since Shanghai is a tweak to Barcelona, there wasn't a whole lot of change to manage, which means an early launch. Shanghai was originally supposed to launch in the first quarter of 2009. Instead, it launches today. Shanghai is a Socket F design, meaning it can be swapped into an existing Quad Core Opteron server. All that's needed is a BIOS upgrade.

Another key difference from Barcelona is that AMD is launching with wide availability. Barcelona came out in trickles. "All of the tier one OEMs have it. We expect a bunch of vendors to be announcing availability on Thursday, and they can start selling as soon as they want," said Demsky.

Demsky said a 2.3GHz Shanghai against a 2.3GHz Barcelona would still be 20 to 25 percent faster thanks to tweaks made to the internals. This includes tripling the level 3 cache, from 2MB to 6MB, support for DDR2-800 memory, which is faster than the DDR2-667 currently used in Quad Core Opterons, and enhancements to the Direct Connect Architecture and HyperTransport 3.0 technology.

In addition, AMD made a number of enhancements to its AMD-Virtualization (AMD-V) technology, such as faster "world switch" time – up to 25 percent faster -- and improved Rapid Virtualization Indexing, which reduces the overhead associated with software virtualization.

It also got OEM partners involved sooner in testing. The TLB errata bug that halted shipments of Barcelona wasn't uncovered until late because partners weren't testing until late in the development cycle, and the TLB bug was prone to show up in virtualized environments.

"The lesson from Barcelona was we didn't get partners involved in validation cycle until late, that's why the TLB bug came up when it did," said Demski. "We started working with VMware and hardware companies much earlier this time."

IBM (NYSE: IBM) plans to introduce four new Quad Core Opteron systems: a BladeCenter LS22 two-socket blade server, a BladeCenter LS42 blade server, a System x3455 and a System x3755 server in two and three socket configurations.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) is offering eight new servers across all lines: rack mount, blade and tower, in both two and four-socket configurations. "Dell understands how to give you the most compute power for your IT dollar. So, we've designed the our AMD-based servers and blades to be powerful and virtualization-ready, but simple and affordable," said Brad Anderson, senior vice president, Dell’s Business Product Group, in a statement.

Demski said AMD was not oblivious to the imminent arrival of Intel's Core i7, a.k.a. Nehalem, which will be formally unveiled on Monday. "We know Nehalem is right around the corner. We expect it to be a pretty good product," he said. But Nehalem is a lot of change for both software and datacenter infrastructures.

"We view Intel as being risky and view AMD as a no-risk, no-brainer, and that's important as people tighten their purse strings in the upcoming year," said Demski.