For the second time in past two years, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. today will take the lead in transforming the industry-standard, mainstream computing market with the release of the first dual-core x86-based microprocessors for servers.
Top-tier vendors Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems all have announced plans to introduce new servers and workstations based on the dual-core Opteron processors. But questions remain whether this latest technological advance by AMD will enable it to finally achieve large-scale success.
"Clearly they have a lead in another technology over Intel, but what's hard to answer is what kind of benefit will they reap," says Mike Feibus, an analyst with TechKnowledge Strategies Inc. "They've been ahead of Intel on several fronts, but it hasn't really helped them crack into that Holy Grail of big enterprise."
Two years ago today, AMD released its first Opteron processor, which enabled it over the ensuing 24 months to launch a transformation of the 32-bit x86 market to 64-bit computing, dragging along a reluctant Intel. With Thursday's availability of the first dual-core Opteron processors, Intel again finds itself months behind the innovation curve, although Paul Otellini, Intel's president and chief operating officer expressed little concern when he announced record first-quarter revenues and profits last week. "The numbers speak for themselves," Otellini told analysts. "People pay a premium for Intel products, and we're outselling our competition by a large measure."
Pat Patla, director of server and workstation marketing for AMD, says that with the dual-core Opteron offerings, AMD is repeating a successful strategy. "We brought 64-bit computing to the masses, and that's exactly what we are going to bring to dual core,"0 Patla says. "We're enabling the next level of performance without users having to change their power infrastructure."
Vijay Agarwala, director of high-performance computing and visualization at Penn State University, says he's ready to purchase new dual-core Opteron systems from Sun as soon as they're available next month. "This is a cost-effective way for us to significantly increase our compute capacity," he says. "I think this is one of the most significant advances of the past five years, no question."
Penn State currently runs a cluster of about 100 four-way Sun servers that are based on single-core Opteron processors. Sun's new dual-core Opteron systems will allow the university to double its processing core capacity while maintaining the same heat and real-estate footprint, Agarwala says.
When Sun brings out an eight-way, dual-core Opteron system this summer, capacity increases will even be more significant. "If I can get even 50% more processing performance, while using the same amount of power, then this will be huge," he says.
AMD is making three versions of its Opteron 800 available immediately, with three versions of its 200 series expected next month. In quantities of 1,000, the devices are priced at $2,649 each for the 2.2-GHz 875; $2,149 for the 2-GHz 870; $1,514 for the 1.8-GHz 865; $1,299 for the 2.2-GHz 275; $1,051 for the 2-GHz 270; and $851 for the 1.8-GHz 265.
Patla says the pricing is set so that the cost of an entry-level dual-core processor is the same as its top-end, single-core Opteron, although the dual-core version will provide at least a 20% to 30% increase in performance.
"We believe this kind of pricing will absolutely drive a rapid adoption of dual core in the x86 64-bit market," he says.
HP on Thursday plans to introduce two dual-core server systems based on the new Opteron processors. HP is adding the ProLiant BL45p for its BladeSystem product line, and the ProLiant DL585 rack server.
Steve Cumings, group manager for ProLiant Opteron systems at HP, says the transition to dual-core-based systems "will be a no-brainer" as customers are able to realize performance increases of as much as 75% with a price premium of only 25%.
"This is almost a reclassification of the industry," Cumings says. "This why we're moving out of the eight-way processor market, as customers are able to move onto four-way, dual-core systems and get the performance increase without paying the additional cost."
IBM initially will offer the dual-core Opteron in its IntelliStation A Pro 6217 workstation, and plans to offer servers based on the processors this summer, says Susan Davi, worldwide product manager at IBM. Says Davi, "Dual core is the wave of the future."