AMD Launches 12-Core ‘Magny-Cours’ Opteron Chip

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

AMD is rolling out its 12-core Opteron chip a day before Intel unveils its eight-core “Nehalem EX” Xeon processors for four-socket servers

Advanced Micro Devices fired the latest salvo in its chip-count competition with rival Intel, releasing its eight- to 12-core Opteron 6000 “Magny-Cours” processors on 29 March.

The launch comes a day before Intel is expected to roll out its eight-core high-end “Nehalem EX” Xeon chip.

A host of server vendors, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Cray, SGI and Appro and Acer, are unveiling new or enhanced systems based on the Opteron 6000 processors, which AMD officials say bring greater performance, memory capacity and energy efficiency over previous versions.

Also planning to roll out new Magny-Cours-based systems is Acer, the world’s second largest PC maker, as it looks to make another run at the server market.

Best price performance per watt

Gina Longoria, director of product management of AMD’s Server and Workstation Division, said the chip maker is looking to offer the best price performance per watt.

“We’re offering more cores and more memory for less money,” Longoria said in an interview.

Both AMD and Intel are positioning themselves for the expected refresh of corporate servers, as businesses look to replace older systems that they have been holding on to, because of the drastic cutbacks in IT spending due to the global recession.

Executives at Dell and HP, during separate quarterly conference calls in February, said they expect to see server sales begin to grow again this year.

“We do see a pretty robust refresh cycle throughout the year,” HP President and CEO Mark Hurd said during a conference call with reporters and analysts on 17 February.

Analyst firms Gartner and IDC both are predicting that enterprises will begin spending on servers again in 2010, driven not only by the need to upgrade the systems but also the innovation that both Intel and AMD are putting into their processors.

Intel rolled out its “Nehalem EP” Xeon chips for two-socket systems last year, while AMD launched its six-core “Istanbul” Opterons.

On 16 March Intel released its six-core Xeon 5600 series “Westmere EP” processors for two-socket systems. By the end of the month, enterprises will have two new high-end x86 chip families to choose from.

Growth of x86 systems expected

IDC analyst Dan Harrington said in an interview in February that the new releases from both chip makers will continue to drive the strong growth of x86 systems, which to some extent is coming at the expense of higher-end Unix-based servers.

“As both AMD and Intel release new higher-end chips this year, including Magny-Cours and Nehalem EX, we expect there to be continued interest in x86, especially as a potential substitute for some more expensive low- to mid-range non-x86 solutions,” Harrington said.

Intel officials have said they see their Nehalem EX processors pushing their way into the higher-end market. However, AMD’s Longoria said that AMD officials have a different vision for their Opteron 6000 processors.

There will be some spillover into the Unix space, she said, but the key to the new Magny-Cours chips will be the opportunity they offer enterprises that currently are running two-socket servers to upgrade their systems or to move into the four-socket space without incurring huge expenses.

With the new Opteron 6000 chips and the upcoming four- to six-core “Lisbon” Opterons—due out in the second quarter—aimed at the one- and two-socket server space, AMD is giving the industry two options for their two-socket systems, she said. That is a key differentiator over Intel, which offers a single platform for two-socket servers.

“The 2P [two processor] is a very difficult market to serve with one platform,” Longoria said, adding that AMD is offering strong price-performance-power-watt capabilities for higher-end two-socket systems, and low-power, low-cost options for lower-end 2P servers. “Having all that in one platform is difficult.”