AMD Revs Next Opteron

AMD isn’t quite ready to release full details of its newest Opteron processor, but did let slip many of its key features.

The Sunnyvale, CA chip maker confirmed yesterday it will unveil its “Next-Generation AMD Opteron” next week. A cross-section of software providers also announced support for the new processor.

AMD will include virtualization features in the processor for developers to use, similar to what Intel has employed with its latest Xeon “Woodcrest” 5100 chips.

“The Next-Generation AMD Opteron processor includes additional hardware support that further accentuates the benefits of VMware Infrastructure 3 as a true distributed platform for sharing resources transparently across the enterprise,” said Brian Byun, vice president of products and alliances at virtualization leader VMware.

VMware also supports Intel as well as other platforms.

In addition to VMware’s announcement, Novell, Citrix, Red Hat, SWsoft, Virtual Iron and XenSource issued statements of support for the new Opteron in advance of next week’s LinuxWorld conference.

The new Opteron release continues the horse race for performance bragging rights between AMD  and Intel .

With Opteron making serious inroads into Intel’s server share the past year, Intel responded with the launch of “Woodcrest,” its dual-core Xeon 5100 processor, earlier this summer.

Intel is now claiming performance and performance per watt leadership, but analysts say AMD’s forthcoming release tightens up the race.

“It all comes down to applications,” Nathan Brookwood, analyst with Insight64, told

“Last year you had to search for an application where Intel could win; now they are winning a lot of benchmarks. But AMD, with this new release, still has an edge where their better memory latency makes a difference.”

Brookwood said applications that can tap the Xeon’s large cache memory will perform better, but applications with large data sets, streaming and apps that go right to main memory favor Opteron and its integrated memory controller.

While both chip suppliers readily use benchmarks to tout their advantages, Brookwood said the differences aren’t that significant.

“If performance is what you’re looking for, you should test your applications and reach your own conclusions, not go by benchmarks,” he said.

Looking ahead, AMD and Intel are busy working on a next generation of quad-core chips that put four computer brains on one processor.

Intel recently moved up the timetable for delivery of its first quad-core processors to the end of this year. AMD will demonstrate its quad-core chips this year, but doesn’t plan to ship until 2007.

AMD touts what it says will be a smoother transition to quad-core with a “native” quad-core design. Intel plans to package two of its Xeon 5100s in “Clovertown,” the code-name for its first quad-core release.

While noting his analysis is based strictly on what the companies have said, since test systems aren’t available yet, Brookwood said AMD’s approach is closer to a true quad-core.

“The Intel approach is inherently less efficient than AMD’s is,” he said. “It’s more of a quasi-quad.”

Brookwood also said AMD wasn’t able to include certain virtualization features in this latest Opteron, but expects them in the quad-core design.

“There are a couple of performance-related virtualizations features AMD has that will give them a real leg up when they release their quad-core products.”

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