Quad-core AMD chip to be released next month

50%-plus performance gains possible, vendor says

AMD will start shipping quad-core versions of its Opteron microprocessor in August and expects hardware vendors to follow in September with servers based on the new chips.

According to AMD, the quad-core Opterons will deliver a performance gain of 40-70% over the company’s existing dual-core chips, depending on the application. And they will do so without consuming more power, AMD says. AMD’s quad-core offering will come to market nine months after Intel released versions of its Xeon server chips with four processor cores.

The quad-core product line, code-named Barcelona, gets some of its performance improvements because AMD is using a 65-nanometer manufacturing process to build the new chips, versus 90 nanometers for its dual-core chips. In addition, the quad-core devices are being manufactured on a single die of silicon, which allows for faster and easier memory sharing, AMD says.

The new chips will initially ship in two versions with different energy-usage levels: a standard model that consumes 95 watts, and a lower-power edition that operates at 65 watts. AMD says the clock speed of the quad-core processors will range up to 2GHz in the standard devices and be 100-200MHz slower in the reduced-power chips.

Additional processors will be released in the fourth quarter with faster clock-speed frequencies that will eventually will reach 3GHz. AMD says users who are running servers with dual-core Opteron chips will be able to easily move to the quad-core devices because the two processor lines have similar power usage characteristics and were designed to operate within the same “thermal envelope”.

John Fruehe, AMD’s worldwide market development manager for server and workstation products, says the bulk of Opteron sales have always been for the standard-power chips but customers are increasingly asking for better energy efficiency. Because of the demand, company officials want to make sure that the lower-power devices get to market quickly, Fruehe says.

Intel launched its quad-core Xeon processors in November and claims to have shipped more than a million of the devices.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at research firm Insight 64, says more details need to be disclosed about the performance of AMD’s quad-core processors, including benchmarking data and the real-world experiences of users, before much can be said about how they compare with Intel’s Xeon 5300 line.

“AMD didn’t give us enough information to make a definitive statement,” Brookwood says.

“They believe that at 2GHz, their performance will be very competitive with Intel’s Clovertown products. However, there is no data to back that up.”

Moreover, Brookwood wonders what will happen “over the next few months as Intel introduces 45-nanometer versions of its current products.” He says he expects AMD to reach 3GHz clock speeds by this time next year.

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