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HP set to unveil Opteron server

Hewlett-Packard is expected Tuesday to announce a server based on AMD's Opteron processor, the latest move in a chess game between AMD and Intel over 64-bit chips.

Hewlett-Packard is expected Tuesday to announce a server based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor, the latest move in a chess game between AMD and Intel over 64-bit chips.

The move, first reported by CNET News.com, would make HP the third of the four major server makers to incorporate the AMD chip. Sources expect HP's Opteron servers to have between one and four processors.

HP declined to comment but said in a press statement that Scott Stallard, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Enterprise Storage and Servers group, "will announce the expansion of its industry standard solutions portfolio" on Tuesday.

Opteron adds 64-bit extensions to the widely used 32-bit "x86" family of processors, such as Intel's Pentium or Xeon. This means that it can break through the 4GB memory barrier of 32-bit chips.

Intel announced last week that it will match those 64-bit extensions with a compatible technology called CT, scheduled to arrive by mid-2004 in a new Xeon processor code-named Nocona.

Before Intel made its move, a company that wanted to use software reworked to take advantage of Opteron's 64-bit extensions would have had to bet that AMD would keep on delivering competitive server chips. Intel's extensions, however, mean that software will work on either company's processors and therefore that Opteron is a more routine option.

HP's adoption of Opteron and 64-bit x86 chips might not be as dramatic as it would have been before Intel announced its move, but it is still notable. For more than a decade, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company and Intel have invested very heavily in a higher-end 64-bit chip family, called Itanium, that runs x86 software comparatively slowly through an emulation process.

Itanium was once expected to become as pervasive in the server market as Pentium is for desktop computers. That possibility has faded with product delays, the 2001 end of server market exuberance, Xeon's continued gains, Opteron's arrival and stronger competition from IBM and Sun's own processors.

IBM released an Opteron server in 2003 for the cluster-supercomputing niche. Sun Microsystems has a more aggressive plan, which includes the release of dual-Opteron machines in April, the launch of four- and eight-processor successors and the planned acquisition of Opteron specialist Kealia.