Dell, AMD expected to expand chip pact

Sources say broader deal will mean mainstream AMD-based servers and include new desktops and laptops.

Dell, the last of the big four server makers to accept Advanced Micro Devices' chips into its product portfolio, is expected to announce Thursday that it's expanding its partnership with the chipmaker to include new AMD-based servers, desktops and laptops.

Dell already scrapped its longtime Intel exclusivity in May, committing to sell a four-processor server with AMD's Opteron by the end of the year. That's a relatively high-end niche for the Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker, but sources familiar with the company's plans expect a broader alliance to be announced Thursday afternoon, when Dell reports quarterly financial results.

One source expected Dell to announce plans to sell dual-processor Opteron servers, a segment of the market with much higher sales volumes than for four-processor machines. Another expected the alliance to include desktop and notebook computers as well.

In the server arena, a likely option is be a rack-mounted model 3.5 inches thick, a size that permits useful features such as moderate storage capacity and redundant power supplies.

Dell and AMD declined to comment on this report. However, Dell and AMD executives told CNET Asia that ; AMD also said that the partnership includes desktop computers.

Such a move in the server market would catch Dell up with its three main rivals, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems. Sun and HP already had a full line of Opteron servers, and IBM followed suit earlier this month.

A broader AMD alliance also would be a new blow to Intel, which remains dominant in the x86 server market but which has seen AMD encroach to 26 percent of the market. Intel's new Xeon 5100 "Woodcrest" processor, introduced in June, is now competitive with Opteron both on performance and on electrical power consumption, but analysts agree that AMD won't be pushed out of the market soon.

AMD on Tuesday introduced its "Rev F" generation of Opteron servers at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, adding faster memory and new circuitry to help with a popular new technology called virtualization. All Rev F models have dual processing cores; systems built for Rev F chips also will accommodate quad-core successors due in 2007.

Intel's Woodcrest processors are dual-core chips, but Intel in 2006 plans to release an upgrade that packages two in a single module, meaning that a single processor socket will have four processing cores.

For higher-end systems with four processors, Intel has begun selling its dual-core "Tulsa" Xeon processor, which unlike Woodcrest is based on the electricity-hungry and all-but-discontinued NetBurst architecture. Tulsa compensates by using a huge 16MB of on-board high-speed cache memory, but the high-performance model will consume up to 150 watts compared with 80 watts for Woodcrest.

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