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Sun puts Shanghai Opterons in Galaxy boxes

Gets ready for Intel's Nehalem Xeons

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While it isn't always the case, Sun Microsystems usually likes to wait until it can actually ship products before it sends out a press release. So while Advanced Micro Devices announced the "Shanghai" quad-core Opterons for servers nearly a month ago, Sun is only making its "Galaxy" x64 launch today because it has enough of the chips to start pumping out boxes.

The existing second-generation of Galaxy rack and blade servers, which were created to use the "Santa Rosa" dual-core Rev F Opterons in August 2006 and which also can support the earlier quad-core "Barcelona" processors that were delivered last summer with a bug but only really went volume this spring, support the new Shanghai Opterons by default.

Arvie Martin, group marketing manager for Sun's x64 products, says that Sun has kept its Galaxy server prices the same and any price differential between Barcelona and Shanghai boxes is due to the differences in processor prices from AMD and, in some cases, from a richer base memory configuration on the Shanghai version of the box. The Shanghai chips can plunk down into the X2200 M2, X4600 M2, X4140, X4240, and X4440 rack servers and the Sun Blade X6240 and X6440 blade servers.

The extra memory and pricing adds up. An X2200 M2, for instance, with a 2.3 GHz Barcelona chip and 4 GB of main memory costs $1,995, while a top-end Shanghai machine with a 2.7 GHz processor and 8 GB of memory costs $3,995. A big portion of that extra two grand, if Sun can get customers to go for it, could end up dropping to the bottom line. Sun's blades are also pricey (as are blades made by others) and could have plenty of profits (it is hard to say unless you know Sun's parts and manufacturing costs). A two-socket Sun Blade X6240 using two of the 2.7 GHz Shanghai chips with 16 GB of memory costs $5,160, while a four-socket blade using 2.7 GHz Shanghais with 32 GB of memory, a 16 GB Compact Flash, and a passthrough fabric expansion module costs $17,525.

Martin says that Sun's internal benchmarks show the top-speed Shanghai chips providing about a 30 to 35 per cent performance boost over the fastest Barcelona parts inside the same servers.

Of course, now that Shanghai is out, all eyes are turning to Intel's future "Nehalem" Xeons. The Nehalem chips, which will span up to eight cores per chip and which have integrated main memory controllers as well as a point-to-point CPU, memory, and I/O interconnect called Quick Path Interconnect - which looks an awful lot like AMD's Opteron chips and its related HyperTransport.

Nehalem is the biggest test that AMD will have to face in a resurgent Intel, which was obviously asleep as it let AMD in to the lead with 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture as well as the HyperTransport interconnect. But in early 2009, probably in late March if the rumors are right, Intel will get its two-socket Nehalems into the field, and the expectation is that these chips will offer compelling performance advantages over the Shanghais. AMD counters, of course, that it has the future "Istanbul" six-core Opterons and a revved HyperTransport interconnect coming later in 2009.

Martin says that this back and forth is good for customers and better for Sun. "Going forward, we see a leapfrog of one vendor over the other," explains Martin, being a politician like other x64 server makers have to be. "We have customers that standardize on AMD, and we have Intel bigots, too. We offer both and they are very good products. The truth is, when we announced our Intel products, it really didn't cannibalize our AMD products. Some people only want Intel servers, and Sun needed to address that. Similarly, there are some people that only want AMD servers."

And for these shops, Shanghai is enough of a benefit for now and if it isn't, they are probably willing to wait until a year from now for the Istanbul chips and get even more bang for the buck. ®

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