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AMD locks and loads 'Istanbul' six-shooter

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Shanghai surprise

There are five Istanbul chips coming out of the chute today, with others expected as the chip ramps. They are all rated at the 75-watt standard thermals for the current crop of Rev F Opterons. Prices shown below are per-chip prices if customers buy in 1,000-unit trays:

  • Opteron 8435: 2.6 GHz, $2,649
  • Opteron 8431: 2.4 GHz, $2,149
  • Opteron 2435: 2.6 GHz, $989
  • Opteron 2431: 2.4 GHz, $698
  • Opteron 2427: 2.2 GHz, $455

Pat Patla, manager of the server and workstation chip business at AMD, said that AMD was by no means dropping its Shanghai Opterons, but would rather position the chips as full-featured processors that offered better value (meaning they cost less) and, at least for now, lower power consumption on some SKUs. Indeed, as we already reported, AMD last week chopped prices on its Shanghai Opterons to align them with the Istanbul chips and to better compete with Intel's Xeon chips. (The price cuts were substantial on Opteron 2300s and less impressive on the Opteron 8300s, where AMD is not feeling the heat of competition quite as intensely.)

Patla added that AMD is fixing to get 40-watt Extremely Efficient (EE), 55-watt Highly Efficient (HE), and 105-watt turbocharged Special Edition (SE) versions of the Istanbul chips into the field in the third quarter of this year. Patla also said that it will also put faster Istanbul parts out as well in the third quarter as it sorts through its bins.

The five Istanbul chips announced today will be "widely available" this month, and systems using the chips are expected to roll out from the major server makers throughout the second half of the year. Given that the Istanbuls plug into the same machines as the Barcelona and Shanghai chips, this is more a matter of software qualification than anything else. Machines will also have to get a BIOS flash in most cases so they can see the six cores on the Istanbul chip.

AMD estimates that about ten per cent of its customers could upgrade Rev F boxes to Istanbul processors, but said that most companies and organizations that buy servers get a box, certify it to run a particular stack, and don't touch it until they get rid of it.

AMD is a little vague on the performance that the Istanbul chips bring to bear, but depending on the workload, it is looking like anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent more oomph, with floating point performance showing the least improvement over top-end Shanghai parts. The Shanghai parts have higher clock speeds - 2.9 GHz in the 75-watt thermal envelope - compared to 2.6 GHz for the Istanbuls, which have two more cores.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Istanbul chips is that AMD is shipping them in their "first silicon" state, and that the initial chips that came out of the factory were found to be ready for full production. This is not the usual state of affairs in the chip business, which usually runs multiple steppings as bugs are found and fixed. But Patla said that the changes AMD made in its design, fabrication, and testing processes in the wake of the bug found in the Barcelona chips gave it the confidence that Istanbul was ready for market.

It will be interesting to see if the server makers agree with that assessment, or if they take a while to do their qualifications for the chip, even though it "just drops in". Paul Gottsegen, vice president of marketing for Enterprise Storage and Servers at Hewlett-Packard, heaped praise on AMD's fast ramp of Istanbul.

"Coming on the heels of Shanghai, to land your first silicon with Istanbul is like hitting a hole in one," Gottsegen said in a briefing he attended with AMD representatives from Europe. But Gottsegen didn't say that HP was shipping Istanbul servers on day one, either. There's excited, and then there's crazy, apparently. ®

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