Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is set to launch its "Rev. F" dual-core Opteron chip on 15 August, defending its turf in the server market against Intel.
Server vendors including Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems plan to use the chip in their mainstream server and workstation lines. Sun will use it in two servers and a workstation, citing improvements in multicore processing, virtualisation and system-level performance per watt, compared to current Opteron chips.
AMD chips account for less than a quarter of the server market, but the company's Opteron chip has been on a roll.
AMD's Opteron revenue for the second quarter of 2006 rose 141% year over year, driving the company, of Sunnyvale, California, to quarterly profit of US$89 million (NZ$143.6 million), far above its mark of US$11 million (NZ$17.7 million) last year.
Opteron got another vote of confidence in May when Dell ended its long-time devotion to Intel chips, and announced it would also begin selling Opteron-based servers by the end of 2006.
Still, Intel owns 76.8% of the server processor market, comparing Xeon to Opteron sales through the first quarter of 2006, according to research firm IDC.
In June, Intel moved to shore up that advantage by launching its "Woodcrest" Xeon 5100 chip, the first member of Intel's new generation of dual-core, 65-nanometer architecture microprocessors.
Despite AMD's release of the Opteron Rev. F, Intel's new technology will probably stop its momentum, says Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64.
"The new Opteron has some important new features, like DDR2 memory and virtualisation hardware extensions. But in terms of performance, it's not a huge leap forward compared to the current Opteron," he says.
"Given that Intel made a huge leap forward with Woodcrest, and with people measuring performance per watt, the market will be much closer than it has been."
AMD won't gain the upper hand in the server market until it moves from 90-nm to 65-nm chip design, and from two-core to four-core chips, sometime around the second quarter of 2007, Brookwood says.
Intel already uses 65-nm design for its Core 2 Duo chips, including Woodcrest, Conroe for desktops and Merom for notebooks. The company plans to release its "Clovertown" quad-core Xeon server processor and "Kentsfield" quad-core desktop chip by the end of 2006.
"I think we'll see a classic game of leapfrog, where each party leaps over the other," Brookwood says.