RealTime IT News

Opteron's Expanding Roadmap

A year after AMD officially unleashed its 64-bit Opteron processor, the system continues to make waves in server rooms across the world, as well as competitors' boardrooms.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker is expected to expand Opteron's horizons as part of a New York reunion party Thursday with some of its original partners and some new friends. CEO Hector De Ruiz is scheduled to kick off the event with representatives from IBM and HP helping to tout the success of the server chip formally known as Sledgehammer.

But Opteron's real impact is expected to be felt in the next year as AMD focuses on branching out from its wins in sectors like computer-aided engineering, digital content creation, entertainment, automobile manufacturing, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and financial services.

"We have long believed that a market opportunity exists in the space between IA-32 processors and Itanium server technology," Gartner analyst George Weiss said. "Technologically, AMD's Opteron processor neatly fits this space. However, AMD was challenged to find partners to bring its technology to the broad Windows and Linux server markets. HP's adoption of AMD's 64-bit Opteron chip meets this challenge."

AMD execs also point to a surge in adoption by more than 250 OS and ISV partners, including Microsoft, Computer Associates, Oracle, Red Hat, SUSE LINUX and VMware. In just the last three months Opteron processor momentum continued with HP and Sun Microsystems shipping AMD Opteron processor-based servers for the first time.

Weiss said Gartner believes that HP's embrace of Opteron in particular has created the most waves throughout the server industry, by forcing IBM to broaden its commitment to Opteron, and forcing Dell to take another look at the technology. But most of all, it has forced Intel to play its hand regarding its CT technology, which, like Opteron, is a 32-bit processor with 64-bit extensions.

In addition, HP's adoption of Opteron creates confusion around market opportunities for Intel's Itanium. Aiding its own cause, AMD recently introduced new low- and mid-power AMD Opteron EE (30 watt) and HE (55 watt) chips.

Gartner's advice for companies is to evaluate the price/performance advantages of Opteron-based servers including the 32-bit version of Windows Server and the forthcoming 64-bit version of Windows Server.

But the company is also expanding its development opportunities by announcing Thursday that it has joined the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL). AMD said it will work with the Beaverton, Ore.-based concern to optimize its Opteron, Athlon 64 FX, and Athlon 64 processors to help bring more open source into the enterprise.

"Open-source developers have a long-standing commitment to innovative technology," Linux luminary Linus Torvalds said in a statement."By incorporating expertise from individuals and industry alike, Linux has extended its reach through the x86 platform on a global basis. 64-bit extensions represent another major step forward, and the open-source community was quick to recognize that potential."

Some of the most notable open-source software projects for AMD64 include the GNU Compiler Collection and debuggers, MPICH, as well as LinuxBIOS for cluster configurations, and Apache, Sendmail and MySQL IT infrastructure applications.

Going forward, AMD said it will also continue to build out its Opteron family by transitioning its designs to 90-nanometer. The company said it is on track to start volume production this quarter and shipping to partners in the third quarter of 2004.

AMD's Opteron roadmap reads like a Mediterranean vacation, with code-names like Athens, Troy and Venus bestowed on its Opteron 8-way, 2-way, and 1-way chips respectively.

All three cores are due out by the end of the year and are expected to contain 1Mb of L2 cache. The first Athens core - Opteron 852 - is expected to run at 2.6Ghz.

"Athens builds on the gains that Opteron has made and enters the market at a time when Intel may be weakened by the Monopoly investigation in Japan," Rob Enderle, analyst and Enderle Group founder, told internetnews.com. "This new part does a nice job of further increasing the pressure on its Xeon counterparts, which are still months away from their own, move to 64-bit extensions. This is a narrow and unusual window of opportunity for AMD when Intel is both weakened and AMD has an attractive technology advantage. Intel will be back with a vengeance so the more traction AMD can get at this time the better for the firm."

AMD said its desktop Athlon lineup is also going forward with its FX series running around 2.6 GHz with code-names like San Diego, Winchester, and Paris.

To help out with its growing production demands, AMD also announced Thursday that it will open an engineering design center in Bangalore, India. The three-year USD$5 million investment is expected to open in July and become a certified Software Technology Park of India facility.