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Opteron to gain power preservation tech - and other goodies

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AMD today said it has added its PowerNow! power conservation technology to its Opteron processor line, the better to pitch the parts at high-density servers and blade-based systems.

The move essentially mimics Intel's addition to SpeedStep to its Xeon processors last summer. Again that was done to make Xeon more suitable for blade roles, particularly as severs become more densely packed and enterprises fret over their rising power and air-conditioning bills.

Technically, PowerNow! isn't new to the platform. AMD has been building the technology into its Athlon 64 desktop chips from the start, albeit under the Cool'n'Quiet brand, reserving PowerNow! for its notebook-oriented products. It's not clear whether PowerNow! has always been a part of the Opteron design and AMD is just now choosing to turn it on, or whether PowerNow!-equipped Opterons will be cut from a new cloth.

AMD is expected to release 90nm Opterons any day now - it has certainly promised to do so before the end of 2004, though as of the 24 November update to its public roadmap, the 90nm 'Venus', 'Troy' and 'Athens' remain "future" releases.

If PowerNow! is a new addition to Opteron, the shift to 90nm would provide the ideal time to add it. The first Opterons with the power conservation system will ship "in the first half of 2005". The arrival of PowerNow! in that timeframe - if it is linked to the 90nm roll-out - implies a slight delay to the 90nm Opteron's debut.

Other additions to the Opteron line said to be in the pipeline include DDR 2 SDRAM support through the CPUs' integrated memory controller and even an extension to 3DNow! to handle Intel's SSE 3 instructions, though AMD has yet to announce any of these. However, since the new Opterons are rumoured to be set for a January 2005 introduction, the company could well be saving these snippets up for the launch.

Certainly, AMD's anticipated dual-core Opteron is expected to support SSE 3, and since it is expected to use the same core as the upcoming single-core parts, it's not unreasonable to assume they have SSE 3 support too. Whether it will be enabled from the start is another matter, of course.

A January debut would also mean that Venus, Troy and Athens had not slipped... much. And if Dell announces Opteron kit, on the same day, who'll notice? ®

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