Shanghai to lead the way for AMD

New Opteron processor marks chipmaker's shift to 45-nanometer technology, and boasts features that will help AMD "capture leadership position", says exec.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

SINGAPORE--AMD has moved on from the Barcelona debacle and is targeting a "leadership position" with the rollout of Shanghai, according to a company executive.

Officially launched worldwide Thursday, Shanghai, the codename for the chipmaker's new 45-nanometer quad-core Opteron processors, offers improved frequencies of between 2.3GHz to 2.7GHz at 75 watts and comes with 6MB of L3 cache, compared to Barcelona's 2MB L3 cache.

An energy-efficient version, as well as a high-power frequency-optimized processor, will be available in the first quarter of 2009.

Much of the "heavy-lifting" work had already been completed with Barcelona, making the transition to Shanghai easier, Bart Arnold, AMD's commercial product marketing divisional manager for servers and workstations, said at a media session earlier this week. However, the new processors also come with new features and technical improvements.

For the same amount of power, the new Opteron processors deliver 35 percent better performance over Barcelona, noted Arnold. Shanghai, with a smaller die size, also promises a 35-percent reduction in idle power.

Weathering the downturn

Despite the uncertainty and gloom in the industry, AMD is still confident that it can meet its long-term goals, AMD's commercial product marketing divisional manager for servers and workstations Bart Arnold told ZDNet Asia.
During a stopover in Singapore to brief media about Shanghai, the company's new 45-nanometer Opteron processor, Arnold said while it was still not clear what 2009 will herald, there is still much going on in the industry.
Rival Intel on Wednesday issued a warning for its fourth-quarter performance, based on weaker than expected revenues across all of its market segments.
Technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing, said Arnold, would be even more important going forward. To that end, AMD is working with virtualization and cloud computing partners, and the company is ready to scale and increase capacity along with the growing adoption of these technologies. Even "if there is a big economic downturn, we're prepared for it with products", he noted.

In addition, Shanghai is able to offer up to 21 percent CPU power savings, based on a key new feature called "AMD Smart Fetch", which allows a core--rather than parts of it--to power down automatically after writing its contents on L1 and L2 to the shared L3 cache. Up to 15 watts of system level power consumption can be reduced with the technology, he said.

Virtualization technology in Barcelona has also been carried forward to Shanghai, but the new processors offer "a lot of uplift" with higher memory. "Virtualization is a heavy memory application, so when you add memory bandwidth you really get an improvement," said Arnold.

AMD's Extended Migration technology--which enables virtual machines to migrate between different versions of AMD processors--also includes support for Shanghai, noted Arnold. Recently, AMD together with Red Hat demonstrated that running virtual machines can also be moved from an Intel-based server to an AMD-based one without affecting other concurrent tasks.

The company, Arnold noted, is not seeing hesitation in adoption of Shanghai from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers)--in contrast to Barcelona, whose rollout was delayed and dogged by problems with shipments.

Tier-one OEMs such as Dell, HP, IBM and Sun are "a hundred percent behind us", bringing to market new Shanghai-based products as well as updates to existing products, he pointed out. From launch till year-end, some 32 platforms will be available.

"We're expecting Shanghai to really reach out and capture the leadership position," said Arnold. AMD's focus, he added, is on the 2P or two-socket server market segment, and Shanghai will position the company to do "extremely well" in this space.

Benchmarking tests for 2P high-performance computing, he explained, have shown that Shanghai has a 34-percent higher floating point throughput performance, and a 24-percent performance improvement of memory bandwidth, over the competition.

Linda Connor, senior business development manager for worldwide tier-1 OEM, told ZDNet Asia that the Shanghai chips are manufactured out of AMD's Dresden fab in Germany, and it is not yet clear when The Foundry Company will take over production. AMD announced last month that it would separate its chip design and manufacturing businesses, with additional investments from the Abu Dhabi government.

Istanbul on track for 2009 release
AMD's six-core processor, codenamed Istanbul, is on schedule to launch in the second half of next year, noted Arnold.

Unlike Intel's recently released Dunnington, Istanbul will be available in the 2P version, which is expected to be AMD's sweet spot.

AMD, according to Arnold, did not release the six-core version earlier as Shanghai would have already presented the "speed bump" or performance leap for its customers.

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