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The sweet spot - and so by design - for Opteron sales has been the standard parts, whose thermals have been drifting upwards slowly as more cores are added to the chip architecture, but which stabilized at 75 watts for the quad-core "Barcelona" and "Shanghai" Opterons and the new six-core Istanbuls. But the HE parts are becoming a bigger part of the mix, according to Longoria.

For the pre-Shanghai generations, Longoria says that the split for the remaining Opterons was something like 80 per cent for standard parts and 15 per cent for the HE parts. During the relatively short Shanghai generation - which ran from November 2008 to June 2009, if you just count the time it was the flagship x64 chip from AMD - the split was more like 55 to 60 per cent standard parts, 30 per cent HE parts, somewhere around 10 to 15 per cent for EE parts and a few per cent for SE variants.

Looking ahead for the Istanbul and later generations, AMD is expecting SE parts to get a few percent of total shipments, EE parts to account for maybe 15 per cent of total shipments (for those customers who need the lowest possible wattage), and the remainder to be split evenly between standard and HE parts.

"Everyone with a big data centre with power constraints is looking at HE chips and keeping an eye on EE chips," says Longoria. "Every watt counts in these data centres."

Considering that the Shanghai EE variants were only announced in April, this is a fairly quick ramp for a product line that was, a few years ago, way ahead of its time.

You might be thinking that with the HE and EE variants, AMD could boost its bottom line by charging a premium for these as well as the SE parts. A few years back, AMD tried that and it didn't work well. In some cases, AMD is actually charging less per unit of work for Istanbul SE and HE parts, and in others, it is only charging a tiny premium.

If you reckon performance as scaling directly with clock speed on the Istanbul chips, then at 1,000-unit quantities, it costs 95 cents per MHz for the Opteron 8439 SE chips, compared to $1.02 per MHz for the standard Opteron 8435. The new Opteron 8425 HE chip costs 72 cents per MHz, which offers the best bang for the buck - and the lowest thermal envelope - for Opterons that plug into four-socket and eight-socket servers.

For two-socket Istanbuls, even though the 2.8 GHz Opteron 2439 SE chip has a higher $1,019 list price than the standard 2.6 GHz Opteron 2435 part, on a per-MHz basis the standard part costs 38 cents per MHz, while the SE costs 36 cents per MHz. The slower 2.4 GHz standard Opteron 2431 chip costs 29 cents per MHz and the 2.2 GHz Opteron 2427 costs 21 cents per MHz. The new 2.1 GHz Opteron 2425 HE chip announced today costs 25 cents per MHz, while the 2 GHz Opteron 2423 HE costs 23 cents per MHz. That is a pretty small premium on a unit-of-work basis.

Longoria says that while AMD put out two EE variants for the quad-core Shanghai chips - one running at 2.1 GHz and another at 2.3 GHz - the company is only planning on putting out a single EE part for the Istanbul line later this quarter, and very likely for only two-socket machines. There isn't an EE part for the Shanghai 8300 series for four-socket and larger machines.

While AMD didn't confirm this, it stands to reason that the Istanbul EE chip will clock in at 1.9 GHz in that 40 watt power envelope, and that EE chip will probably have a price that comparable to the midrange Opteron 2400 standard part, which costs $698 in 1,000-unit quantities. AMD could introduce a new price band, of course, something in the range of $600.

That Opteron 2400 series EE part would be 20.8 percent slower than the Opteron 2341, but would also burn 46.7 per cent less juice at 40 watts. For a lot of data centres, this is a fair trade when what they really need are machines that can throw more cores and more main memory at their workloads.

AMD says that on the SPECpowerssj_2008 benchmark, a server using two of the 2.1 GHz six-core Istanbul Opteron 2425 HE chips can do 18 per cent more work per unit of energy at peak load compared to the same machine using two of the 2.3 GHz quad-core Shanghai Opteron 2376 HE parts. ®

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