AMD Launches Six-Core 'Istanbul' Opteron

A new feature in Istanbul is called HyperTransport Assist, a technology that increases memory and I/O performance by reducing the overhead of cache lockups.
Advanced Micro Devices on Monday launched its six-core server processor code-named Istanbul, saying computer makers this month would be selling high-powered products incorporating the chip.

The release of AMD's latest Opteron chip followed less than a week after Intel announced that it would begin production of an eight-core Nehalem-EX processor, officially called the Xeon 7400 line, this year. Systems are expected in 2010.

The two rivals are in a race to provide more cores to boost processing power to a level that narrows the gap with RISC servers used in the most demanding of computing environments. In releasing more powerful x86 chips, Intel and AMD are chasing market demand for processors that can support better virtualization for server consolidation.

In addition, more powerful x86 servers offer customers a less-expensive alternative to running business applications, such as databases and ERP software, than RISC servers.

Istanbul is available in two-, four-, and eight-socket systems, and is "drop-in" compatible with sockets in systems running current-generation Opteron processors. As a result, the chips only support DDR2 memory, and not the faster DDR3. That lack of support is not a problem, because the newer memory technology is too expensive and draws too much power to meet customer needs in servers today, which is low cost and higher energy efficiency, according to AMD.

The price and energy efficiency of DDR3 is expected to improve, and the technology will be supported in future AMD server products. "DDR3 is a great technology for 2010," John Fruehe, director of AMD's server business, said during a Webcast to launch Istanbul.

A new feature in Istanbul is called HyperTransport Assist, a technology that increases memory and input/output performance. HT Assist does that by reducing the overhead of cache lockups, according to Fruehe. In general, the technology reduces the amount of traffic generated by processors in seeking the shortest path to needed data.

Replacing one of AMD's previous-generation quad-core processors with Istanbul will provide up to 34% more performance, according to AMD. The company plans to ship a full line of Istanbul chips, from high end to low power, throughout the rest of the year.

Computer makers that plan to ship Istanbul-based servers this month include Cray, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems. The new chip, built using a 45-nanometer manufacturing processor, was manufactured by GlobalFoundries, a joint company between AMD and Advanced Technology Investment Co., formed by the Abu Dhabi government.

AMD stockholders in February approved the spin-off of AMD's manufacturing operations to the joint venture in order to reduce AMD's costs and, it's hoped, end the company's string of money-losing quarters.

In 2010, AMD said it plans to release eight- to 12-core 45-nm Opteron processors code-named Magny-Cours, and in 2011, 32-nm 12- to 16-core chips code-named Interlagos. The new processors will run on a new platform, code-named Maranello, and will require a new socket, which means they won't be drop-in compatible with current systems.

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