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AMD unveils 'Shanghai'; Aims to better compete with Intel

AMD on Thursday will launch its "Shanghai" platform, its latest batch of Opteron server chips. With Shanghai, AMD gets a do-over from its ill-fated Barcelona launch.
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Written by Larry Dignan on

AMD on Thursday will launch its "Shanghai" platform, its latest batch of Opteron server chips. With Shanghai, AMD gets a do-over from its ill-fated Barcelona launch.

At a high-level, Shanghai gives a 400 MHz speed gain in the same thermal band as Barcelona. Shanghai also triples the cache on the chip to improve performance in database and Java applications. According to Kevin Knox, vice president of AMD's commercial business, "Shanghai pulls us closer to Intel and keeps us competitive for several quarters to come."

Overall, AMD is claiming a 35 percent performance boost with up to a 35 percent power decrease--in certain conditions (Techmeme). AMD has been shipping the chips to original equipment manufacturers for weeks and hardware giants such as HP, Sun, IBM and Dell have systems ready. For instance, Dell will update eight of its servers with Shanghai, according to Sally Stevens, director for platform marketing at Dell. Stevens says the latest AMD systems deliver a 49 percent performance boost over their Barcelona counterparts.

For customers, AMD's messaging is consistent: Shanghai is designed to aid the migration to virtualized applications--especially in heterogeneous environments--with a low power footprint. Knox notes that those topics should be winners in a down economy. "The power issue is not going to go away," says Knox. The latest Opterons increase speeds to 2.3 GHz to 2.7 GHz in a 75-watt thermal envelope. And for customers, the latest Opterons are a simple upgrade since the architecture is the same as Barcelona.

The launch for AMD is critical since the chipmaker has to be a player in the server market to preserve its gross margins and pricing. Barcelona was a help, but delays and lower clock speeds meant AMD couldn't compete effectively with Intel. "This is our aggressive foray back into the server market," says Knox.

The rub: AMD is launching its new lineup in a down economy. Knox is hoping that the new Opterons address "the main pain points" of better efficiency and power consumption, but acknowledges that "it's not an ideal time" for a launch. But overall it's not like companies can totally stall infrastructure upgrades.

Among the key points:

AMD is touting virtual machine migration capabilities:

Price per performance (click to enlarge):

And a easier to follow roadmap (click to enlarge):

That compares with Intel's roadmap:

AMD also provided benchmarks. Frankly, these benchmark battles confuse the hell out of me (always know what you don't know) and I take all of them with a massive grain of salt. In fact, I usually boil the argument down to the business benefit anyway. Customers want two chip suppliers and if the benchmarks between AMD and Intel are comparable no one is going to sweat the footnotes or even a few GHz here and there. That said if you'd like to sweat the footnotes knock yourself out. Here are AMD's three benchmark slides vs. Intel's latest (click to enlarge them all).

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