AMD Istanbul: Field Upgrade Only If Your Hands are Nimble

The newly-launched AMD Opteron 24xx and 84xx server CPUs have six processor cores. Unlike Intel's Nehalem, which requires entirely new and unproven mainboards, systems, chipsets and sockets, the "Istanbul" is based on existing, mature AMD chipsets and uses the existing 1207-pin Socket F, allowing current Quad-Core Opteron systems to be field upgraded rather than requiring entirely new server purchases.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

The newly-launched AMD Opteron 24xx and 84xx server CPUs have six processor cores. Unlike Intel's Nehalem, which requires entirely new and unproven mainboards, systems, chipsets and sockets, the "Istanbul" is based on existing, mature AMD chipsets and uses the existing 1207-pin Socket F, allowing current Quad-Core Opteron systems to be field upgraded rather than requiring entirely new server purchases.

There's been a lot of buzz lately about Intel's "Nehalem" microarchitecture-based Xeon 5500 server chip which represents an entirely new generation of processor technology for the company.  However, underneath all this Nehalem excitement, rival x86 processor manufacturer AMD has also getting ready to launch it's own six-core chip, today, on June 1st, the "Istanbul".

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

One of the main features of the "Istanbul" generation of AMD CPUs, or the Opteron 24xx and 84xx series, is that they are designed so that they can be used to field upgrade to existing quad-core Opteron systems, since it uses the existing Socket-F connector.

Provided your server vendor gives you a BIOS update, all that's required to move from quad-core to six-core (Hexa-core? Sexa-Core?) technology is removing your old processors, popping in the new ones, and booting your system back up. The 24xx and 84xx series CPUs are actually compatible with systems going back four Opteron quad-core chip generations, ever since the 2000 and 8000 series were introduced in August of 2006.

Note to Self: Get Someone Else to Do It

AMD was nice enough to send me a pair of Opteron 2435 CPUs so I could try a field upgrade of my own dual-processor SuperMicro server. Admittedly, It has been a while since I've had to do a CPU swap on an Opteron mainboard, so naturally I was a little nervous about it, particularly as over the years CPU packages and their connectors have gotten smaller and smaller in proportion to the size of my hands, which were never well suited towards delicate tasks in the first place.

Also See: Jason Perlow's Istanbul Field Upgrade Gallery.

Also Read: AMD Istanbul Presentation (PDF, 3952 Kb)

Here's what I'll say about field upgrading Socket F Opteron CPUs on your own  -- provided you aren't a total klutz, and you don't rush your way through it, and your hands are like that of an elf, you'll probably come out okay. If, however, you're a total screw-up like myself, with unweildy digits that could be used for modeling Ogre hands for computer-generated imagery in an upcoming Narnia flick, you'll end up bending several of the 1,207 pins on at least one of your CPU sockets and you'll need an entire mainboard swap out by the time you're done.

My advice is that if you do decide to upgrade any of your Socket F systems in your enterprise to Istanbul chips, get an authorized technician under your service contract via your vendor to do it and let them take the responsibility -- don't have your own staff do it unless they've got really nimble fingers and really know what the hell they are doing. I can truly say after 20 plus years of working on hardware that I really do know what the hell I am doing, and I still managed to royally screw up my system.

CPU replacements nowadays aren't like snapping in simple components like SDRAM modules, hard drives, video cards and other modules -- it requires careful consideration of their alignment, and you need to be very much aware of of much force you are using when you pull them out and put them back in. In the case of the Opteron 2xxx/8xxx series of chips you're dealing with a socket connector that has 1,207 separate pins on it. Don't even try to bend them back into place, it's absolutely futile if you screw up. In my case, my mistake is going to cost somebody a $400.00 motherboard.

Admittedly with the Opteron, the connections are not on the chips itself, but on the socket, and it's (debatedly) easier to perform the operation than previous generations of AMD products that I've installed in the past. Unfortunately, stuff happens, even to the best of us, and I've probably done CPU installations and replacements at least a hundred times over the last 15 years. AMD is going to be getting me a replacement mainboard so we can do a "do over", so stay tuned on the full product review in the next week or so.

Istanbul: The Good Stuff

In any case, despite my own stupidity, I have to commend AMD on being able to bring a product to market that allows customers to leverage their existing Opteron server infrastructure rather than having to go out and buy all new servers, as it is with the Nehalem. This is a product that makes a lot more sense for the current economy where server sales have slumped by the major vendors by an average of 25 percent in in Q1 of 09 in comparison to the same quarter last year.

AMD also was able to engineer and manufacture the Istanbul during a period in which it also spun off its entire manufacturing capacity as a separate company, GlobalFoundries, so the fact they were able to get this product out in record time (six months ahead of schedule, according to the company) to compete with Intel's Nehalem is a significant achievement.

Quick Facts about Istanbul: Models/Frequency/Power:

AMD Opteron™ Model 8435 (2.6 GHz) 75W ACP AMD Opteron™ Model 8431 (2.4 GHz) 75W ACP AMD Opteron™ Model 2435 (2.6 GHz) 75W ACP AMD Opteron™ Model 2431 (2.4 GHz) 75W ACP AMD Opteron™ Model 2427 (2.2 GHz) 75W ACP

Number of Transistors: 904 million

Die Size: 346mm²

Packaging: Socket F (1207)—1207-pin organic Land Grid Array (LGA)

Manufactured: GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Dresden, Germany

Process Technology: 45-namometer SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology

HyperTransport™ Technology Links (total/coherent): Three 16-bit/16-bit links @ up to 19.2 GB/s @ 4.8GT/s per link Memory Support: Integrated DDR2 memory controller — up to 12.8GB/s memory bandwidth per CPU for Socket F (1207); Registered ECC DDR2-533, DDR2-667, DDR2-800 for Socket F (1207)

Cache Size: L1 cache: 64KB (Data) + 64KB (Instruction) per core L2 cache: 512KB per core L3 cache: 6144KB

Chipsets: All chipsets that currently support the Quad-Core AMD Opteron processor will also support today’s new Six-Core AMD Opteron processors. In addition, all of the Six-Core AMD Opteron processors announced today are expected to be supported by the planned AMD SR5690 chipset.

Motherboards: Leading vendors are expected to offer validation within existing socket-compatible motherboards and bare-bones systems that can support the new Six-Core AMD Opteron processors.

Systems: Systems are expected from major OEMs in 1H09.

In addition to the addition of two more CPU cores, the 24xx and 84xx DCA Istanbul processors have a new feature, HT (HyperTransport) Assist, which reduces the chattiness between processors over the HyperTransport bus for the processor inter-connects by borrowing a 1MB portion of each CPU's L3 cache to act as a directory. This directory tracks where that CPU’s cache lines are used elsewhere in the system, and can significantly increase performance on 4-way, 8-way or larger systems. Two-way systems do not benefit from this feature, as the bus chattiness between the two processors is negated by borrowing extensively from the cache.

AMD claims that with the new HT Assist feature in Istanbul processors, that 4-Way Stream memory bandwidth performance improves by ~60% (41.5GB/s with HT Assist vs. 25.5GB/s without HT Assist).

In terms of electrical power usage, Istanbul's active idle consumption is about the same per processor as the model 2382 "Shanghai", the latest generation Opteron quad-core server chip, so organizations looking for a modest upgrade to their existing infrastructure using Istanbuls as field replacements for Shanghais can be confident that their power bills will not increase in tandem with the increased amount of cores per server.

The Istanbul series of chips marks the end of the line for the Socket F Opterons. AMD's next generation processors, using the "Marenello" microarchitecture, will ship in  8 to 12 core and 12 to 16 core variations, and like Intel's Nehalem, will require a complete technology refresh. The "Maranello" will be the competition for the recently announced 8-core Nehalem EX chip that is expected to ship in the latter half of 2010, around the same time as Maranello.

AMD will be having a webcast today, June 1 at 12 noon, Eastern time, to launch the Istanbul processor.

Are you planning to field upgrade any of your Shanghai servers to Istanbuls? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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