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5/10/2006
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System Builders Explore Ways To Boost Opteron Horsepower In Blades

Floating-point technology for high-performance computing is one option being explored. An AMD spokeswoman said the company expects to show off some of the technology at a briefing scheduled for June 1.

Some system builders are testing a new option for servers using Advanced Micro Devices processors that would significantly boost floating point capabilities for high-performance computing (HPC).

The system builders, who spoke on the condition that they remain anonymous, said they are evaluating two-socket blades that couple a programmable coprocessor with AMD's Opteron CPU.

"We are talking about ultra-high floating point for high-performance computing," said a sales executive at one system builder. The executive noted that a coprocessor setup is the kind of deep customization work that can differentiate a system builder's business from those of top-tier OEMs.

Executives at AMD, Sunnyvale, Calif., declined to comment but confirmed that companies are looking at matching up coprocessors with Opteron CPUs and that AMD has been encouraging such experimentation.

An AMD spokeswoman said the company expects to show off some of the technology at a briefing scheduled for June 1.

The Opteron, considered a fast and power-efficient CPU option, has gained substantial traction in the HPC market, according to solution providers. A blade is the preferred infrastructure for the coprocessor bundles because it packs best power/performance ratio in the smallest amount of space, they said.

"This is the cold power year," said one large system builder who is testing the option. "Everything is about efficiency."

This system builder said testing is under way but noted that commitments to productize the technology have yet to be made. He said the current testing is checking the option’s viability for the HPC space, which includes segments such as entertainment render farms, gas and oil exploration, biological applications and financial modeling.

Doug O'Flaherty, division manager of acceleration strategy at AMD’s Advanced Technology Group, said innovations such as pairing an Opteron with a coprocessor have come out thanks to the HyperTransport technology in AMD processors.

HyperTransport is a high-speed link between an AMD CPU and a system's I/O, such as the PCI bus, hard-drive controller and optical drives. Opteron processors contain three HyperTransport links, but only two are used in two-way systems. One connects the I/O and the other connects the processor to the second socket. The third link was originally designed to connect processors in four- and eight-way systems.

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