AMD: 16-cores and a search for server relevance

AMD's new Opterons, which have up to 16 cores, hit the market with good support from HP, Cray, AMAX, IBM and Dell. Is that enough to give AMD more than 5 percent of the x86 server market?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

AMD on Monday rolled out its new Opteron 6200 and 4200 processors in a bid to regain server market share and become a more relevant player. The announcement comes amid a bevy of high performance computing announcements this week at the SC11 conference in Seattle. For AMD, the new chips represent a part of the company's focus on emerging markets, mobile and cloud computing. These Opterons, which include more cores, performance and efficiency, fall into AMD's strategy to power cloud computing server farms.

As for the processors, AMD's new chips, which were code-named "Interlagos" and "Valencia", promise 84 percent higher performance, more memory bandwidth for virtual machines and energy efficiency improvements.

Among the key points:

  • 4 to 16 cores;
  • Power efficiency as low as 4.375W per cores;
  • Supports up to 12 DIMMs per CPU for up to 384GB memory per CPU.

The new Opterons hit the market with good support from HP, Cray, AMAX, IBM and Dell. ZDNet UK reviewed the Dell server based on the 16-core AMD Opteron.

AMD also outlined a new platform, the Opteron 3000 Series, aimed at the Web hosting and microserver markets. The first processor in the 3000 Series is the 4 to 8 core chip code-named Zurich. This chip, due in the first half of 2012, appears to be aimed at ARM and Atom based servers.

Now the big question: Will any of this make a dent in Intel's server market share? In the third quarter, Intel had 95.1 percent of the x86 server market and AMD had 4.9 percent, according to IDC.

Analysts appear to be giving AMD a shot. Phase one of AMD's server plan revolves around pricing to garner more share. Aggressive pricing alters the price for performance and watt equation. Phase two revolves around the cloud computing data center focus.

Evercore analyst Patrick Wang said in a research note that AMD cut prices up to 50 percent ahead of Monday's Opteron launch.

Wang said:

Our checks indicate aggressive price cuts ahead of the Interlagos server launch. We believe this signals a dramatic change in strategy as the cuts are SKU-based within a 2-staged attack. First, AMD essentially re-enters the game by “price cutting” its way back in. Then, we expect modest speed bumps in 1H12 and incrementally higher ASPs as AMD fine-tunes its design and GlobalFoundries improves output and 32nm yields. We think AMD has a shot of restoring its server share to 10% – 15% by the second half of 2012 driven by the ASP realignment and forthcoming volume ramp.


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