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AMD's Opteron 4100s march into x64 price war

Battle for the clouds

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Because low-heat and low-price are more important than anything with these customers, AMD is not creating a high-cost, high-wattage Special Edition (SE) part for the Opteron 4100 processors, as it did with the Opteron 6100s. Conversely, there is no Opteron 6100 EE part since customers buying four-socket servers tend to want to maximize performance.

According to Margaret Lewis, director of software product marketing at AMD, four motherboard makers are stepping up to make boards using AMD's chipsets and C32 sockets to support the Opteron 4100 processors. (Given that the C32 socket is not all that different from the Rev F socket, this should not be a big deal). Gigabyte, MSI, Super Micro, and Tyan are all doing Opteron 4100 boards with lots of power optimizations, and Super Micro is expected to also do bare-bones platforms as it always does with any new x64 chip.

Dell's Data Center Solutions unit, which makes custom servers for hyperscale data centers and which accounts for a sizeable portion of the company's server unit shipments every quarter, has committed to using the Opteron 4100 in its boxes, and upstart server maker Acer, which carried the Opteron 6100 banner into the x64 war back in March, is picking up the Opteron 4100 and committed to delivering power-optimized twin servers (which put two servers side-by-side in a single 1U chassis, or sometimes four units in a 2U chassis) and tower machines for small and medium businesses in the second half of 2010.

Power optimization means cutting out USB ports, serial ports, parallel ports, service processors, and any other unnecessary item from the system board to cut the power usage of the board. Lewis says that additional tier one server makers are expected to put out Opteron 4100 products "in the coming months."

The problem with focusing on the cloud market is that the companies building or using Opteron 4100 systems, as well as those based on earlier energy-efficient Opteron designs, are unwilling to talk about what they are doing. (Indeed, it took El Reg a year of pestering to finally wear Dell DCS down enough to admit it used Opterons in at least some of its bespoke cloud servers).

"What you're using in the servers tells competitors what you are doing to get an edge and reach higher levels of energy efficiency," says Lewis. "But what I can tell you is that we have at least 2 million Opteron processors in cloud providers today."

That's somewhere on the order of a million boxes – and that is a pretty good business, even for Intel, much less AMD.

The good news for customers buying or building Opteron 4100 systems today is that AMD is committing to the C32 socket and the future "Valencia" Opterons – presumably the 4200s – due in 2011 with six or eight cores will plunk right into existing C32 systems with the SR5600 series chipsets from AMD. ®

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