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AMD draws x64 battle lines with 'Magny-Cours'

Opteron 6100s lock and load

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With AMD's launch of its "Magny-Cours" Opteron 6100 processors today, another battalion in the x64 War of 2010 is moving into position, opposite the field from Intel's "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600s. Tomorrow, Intel will roll out its big-gun "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7500s, and in the second quarter, AMD will move its entry "Lisbon" Opteron 4100s into the front lines. The shooting will not wait until all the chips are in the field, of course, and this morning, the battle is already loud and smoky.

In case you were busy two weeks ago, Intel got onto the x64 battlefield first with its Xeon 5600s. Intel put out fifteen Xeon 5600 processors as well as the related Xeon 3600 for single-socket workstations and the Core i7-980X Extreme Edition for high-end PCs. The Xeon 5600 chips are socket-compatible with last year's quad-core Xeon 5500s, and they come with four or six cores and 12 MB of L3 cache spread across those cores, plus HyperThreading simultaneous multithreading and Turbo Boost, which allows cores in a chip to speed up as others in the chip are shut down.

The Xeon 5600s came with thermal design points (TDPs) of 40, 60, 80, 95, and 130 watts, and clock speeds ranged from 1.86 GHz to 3.33 GHz. Intel kept some entry Xeon 5500 parts in the lineup, which were missing HyperThreading and Turbo Boost as well as a number of other features, to give it entry performance and price points - presumably to shoot at the Opteron 4100s, due in the second quarter for single- and dual-socket servers.

The Opteron 6100s are the big guns in the AMD lineup, and they overlap with the new Xeon 5600s and the low-end of tomorrow's Xeon 7500s. The Xeon 5600s are aimed at two-socket boxes, and the Xeon 7500s were supposed to replace the Xeon MPs, aimed at four-socket and larger machines - when vendors actually got around to making servers with 8, 16, or 32 sockets. But a number of server makers are cooking up two-socket and four-socket machines based on the Xeon 7500s because of the extended memory they offer and because in a lot of cases, server buyers are more constrained by memory capacity and bandwidth than processing capacity. This is yet another way that the uptake of virtualization puts pressure on the chip and server makers.

With the market for eight-socket and larger boxes dwindling and the four-socket market expected to see a similar decline, it is no wonder that AMD decided to bifurcate its product line in a different way from the old Opteron 1000, 2000, and 8000 series and focus on creating platforms with one, two, or four sockets with two distinct processors and memory and energy profiles. Those looking for the densest and most energy efficient server platforms with one or two sockets are expected to go for the Opteron 4100s, while those looking for more cores and more memory per socket as well as up to four sockets.

AMD wants one set of chip cores and chipsets that get implemented in two slightly different packages to address the bulk of the market. Intel still has two distinct processors and chipsets. AMD wants to compete on price and ramp up its volumes.

As expected - and as finally confirmed by John Fruehe - director of product marketing for server and workstation products at AMD, the Opteron 6100 is really two of the upcoming six-core Lisbon Opteron 4100 processors implemented in a single socket. The combined chips get baked into a package with 1,944 pins that plug into the G34 socket. The Opteron 4100s will be sliding into a tweaked version of the Rev F socket, which has 1,207 pins. Both use organic land grid array (LGA) links between the processor and the socket. With both Lisbon processors and their 6 MB of L3 cache each, the total processor budget for the Opteron 6100 comes to 1.81 billion transistors and the combined dies have a total of 346 square millimeters per die, for a total of 692 square millimeters.

The Opteron 4100 and 6100 chips are both implemented in a 45 nanometer silicon on insulator process and are baked up by AMD's spun out chip biz, GlobalFoundries. The Lisbon cores are very similar to those implemented in the six-core "Istanbul" Opteron 2400 and 8400 processors last June. The transistor budgets and processor areas are the same, as are the caches. The big change is the shift from DDR2 to DDR3 memory for the integrated memory controllers.

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