RealTime IT News

AMD's Expanding Opteron Family

AMD returned to its close-knit group of friends to introduce its latest round of two-way and four-way x86 processors for servers and workstations.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker introduced three new Opteron chips Tuesday: Models 850, 250 and 150, priced at $1,514, $851 and $637, respectively. The chips are geared to compete with Intel Xeon processors.

While the new processors are designed for the gamut of enterprise configurations, AMD said it decided to start with model 250 for high-performance dual-processor workstations and servers. AMD's partners IBM, Sun Microsystems, and HP , as well as a bevy of other vendors (except for Dell), said they are all ready to ship the new chips. AMD said the other two models -- the 150, for single-processor workstations and entry-level servers, and the model 850, for enterprise-class servers -- should be ready in about 30 days.

The new chips feature Direct Connect Architecture, which directly connects the processors, the memory controller and the I/O to the central processor unit, helping to smash bottlenecks inherent in a front-side bus, the company said. The technology also makes it easier to put two cores on a single chipset.

Marty Seyer, AMD's vice president and general manager of the Microprocessor Business Unit, also said the company is close to transitioning its product line to 90-nanometer (nm) manufacturing.

"We have already begun initial production of 90-nm AMD64 processors, and we are on target to begin shipping 90-nm processors for revenue in the third quarter," Seyer said in a statement.

Both the Direct Connect technology and the 90-nm process are expected to help AMD launch its first dual-core processor. Executives with the chipmaker were quoted Monday suggesting that AMD's launch would come about the same time as Intel's first dual-core Pentium in 2005.

Seyer's boss, CEO Hector Ruiz, spent the week in Dresden, Germany advancing the company's ability to supply the increased demand. The chief helped open AMD's next-generation 300-millimeter (mm) manufacturing facility, AMD Fab 36. The plant is expected to produce 300 mm silicon test wafers around mid-2005, with the first commercial shipments planned for the first half of 2006.

The Fab 36 plant is expected to hire upwards of 1,000 employees by 2007. AMD said it plans on investing close to $2.5 billion through the same timeframe on the Fab.

The release comes at a critical time as AMD is gaining traction in the marketplace. A survey last week showed that AMD outsold Intel in North American retail desktop sales. AMD is hoping to use that momentum to sell its server chips.

"While I consider AMD's new MPUs to be better than any microprocessors the company has produced in the past, in my view these new parts are still not good enough to challenge Intel's dominance in the microprocessor business," Melanie Hollands, president of Koala Capital, a hedge fund that focuses on technology stocks, recently told internetnews.com.

Hollands continued: "In the past, AMD has never been able to make any great strides in penetrating the server processor market, and my sense is while its 64-bit chips may be technically better than past efforts, I don't see Opteron or Athlon 64 being able to engender enough OEMs to switch that it threatens Intel's dominance. That said - I do believe that AMD can carve out a strong niche and take some share from Intel.:

In related news, AMD helped launch two new NOR Flash memory families as part of its Spansion partnership with Fujitsu. Based on 110-nanometer floating-gate technology, the new S29WS-J and S29NS-J Flash memory families are designed to improve on existing wireless designs. The new memory offers 128- and 64-megabit densities, high-frequency burst mode interfaces and simultaneous read-write operation in single-die and multi-chip package configurations.