Recently, AMD introduced 8-core (Opteron 4200) and 16-core (Opteron 6200) server processors based on the modular “Bulldozer” architecture in a bid to remain competitive in the market. These chips can easily power web servers, corporate data centers, cloud services and supercomputers. The server processor market is still dominated by AMD’s arch-rival, Intel, while ARM’s chips offer fresh competition, which may appeal those who seek low-power embedded processors for servers. AMD recently lay off 11 percent of its employees to allow it to keep pace with Intel and other competitors. The new chips are aimed to shore up AMD’s eroding small share in the server processor market. At the Q3, 2011 AMD’s share topped out at less than 5 percent.
The new chips are expected deliver better performance to virtualized environments and resource-intensive applications such as databases. Processors with more cores can provide better granularity as they break down workloads and help to consolidate server usage in a data center.
The Opteron 6200 significantly ups the number cores possible in an x86 processor and it is difficult compare it directly with processors using traditional cores. There are a floating point unit and two integer units in each Bulldozer module. Each floating point unit is consisted of two floating point processors, consequently, eight Bulldozer modules in Opteron 6200 yields 16 cores. AMD promises more than 80 percent higher performance over a comparable Intel’s Xeon processor. However, some experts said that performance comparison between high-end server processors is not always relevant to average consumers, who prefer cost-effective, mid-performance processors.
AMD doesn’t only add significantly more core counts than Intel’s processors, the company also gets some parity across the processor lineup. Intel currently only offers up to ten cores in its latest server processor. Traditionally, Intel offers better raw performance, but AMD’s processors usually interest consumers who want to get the most bang for the buck. AMD’s solution is appropriate for companies looking to minimize costs, as it provides much better performance-per-dollar ratio.
In any case, interpreting performance to practical, real-life results is often an uncertain undertaking. Even so, new processors should perform well for most, if not all applications. The new Opteron processors offer new power-related capabilities, which may get a look from any power-conscious administrators of web hosting services. For examples, Bulldozer modules can power down automatically if they have been idle for a number cycles. AMD claims that when this mode is enabled, data centers can save up to 46% energy costs at idle. Administrators can also adjust the power usage down to single watts to improve the efficiency. This gives administrators of web hosting services the flexibility of using more servers within a given power quota.
These Opteron processors seem to interest high-performance computing community. Cray has been awarded a contract to develop the Blue Waters supercomputer using Opteron 6200 processors. High-performance computing is just a small niche in the server processor market, consequently, AMD needs tractions in the web hosting, data center and cloud market to ensure the success of its processors. AMD needs to have a shot at real-life relevancy if it wants make the Opteron processors competitive.
Web hosting administrators, who seek to upgrade their servers, can get HP’s Proliant G7 servers that use AMD’s new processors. Dell will also use the new AMD chips in its upcoming servers, but it didn’t reveal a release date yet.