are a hot topic at the moment for two main reasons: the exponential rise of cloud computing, where servers are often required to handle massively parallel workloads rather than perform traditional database or high-performance computing tasks; and the need for data centres to "improve the efficiency of their profit-generating unit" — their servers — as Andrew Feldman, general manager of AMD's server business unit, put it when he spoke to ZDNet last week.
Around 70 percent of a data centre's operational costs are generated by its power and space requirements, which makes high-density, low-power microservers such as those from AMD acquisition SeaMicro, and HP with its Moonshot project, very interesting products these days.
New types of low-power processors are required for these single-socket microservers — something that has been addressed by Intel with its Atom S1200 (Centerton) series and forthcoming Avoton upgrade, ARM and now AMD, which has formally announced the Opteron X (previously codenamed "Kyoto").
There are two quad 64-bit "Jaguar" core Opteron X processors, the X2150 and the X1150. Both chips incorporate a 128-core Radeon HD 8000 graphics processing unit, but only the 11W X2150 has it activated; the GPU-disabled Opteron X1150 consequently has a lower typical power consumption — as low as 9W, according to AMD.
AMD describes the 32nm Opteron X as the highest density, most power-efficient small core x86 processor ever built. The speeds and feeds certainly stack up well against Intel's current dual-core Atom S1200 processors:
AMD's Feldman claimed: "This is the dominant small-core part in the industry," and highlighted its 1.9X single-thread performance advantage over the Atom S1200 in particular. AMD already has a design win for the Opteron X from HP, which will include the processor in its Moonshot microserver in the late summer, and promises more announcements in the next few months.
Talking of HP's Moonshot, Feldman stressed that, despite SeaMicro and HP competing on the same microserver turf, AMD was a big supporter of the Moonshot project, while naturally emphasising what he saw as the particular advantages of the SeaMicro architecture: "First we reduce the number of components on the motherboard, and then we separate compute, storage and networking with our multi-dimensional torus fabric."
The 11W Opteron X2150, which runs its cores at up to 1.9GHz, will cost $99 (£65) in 1,000-unit volumes, while the 9W X1150, which runs at up to 2GHz, will cost $64 in 1,000-unit volumes.