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AMD boosts Opteron performance

The chipmaker announces three new versions of its flagship chip but has yet to release details about specific improvements.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday announced that it has amplified the performance of its Opteron processors for computer servers.

The chipmaker on Tuesday launched three new Opteron chips, models 250, 150 and 850, designed for servers with dual, single and four or more processors, respectively. Model 250 is available now, while the other chips will ship within 30 days, AMD said.

AMD designed the new 64-bit-capable chips to offer greater performance than its existing Opterons, which come in model numbers of up to 148, 248 and 848. Although AMD did not specify how it achieved the higher model numbers, it is likely that the company increased the clock speed of the chips to 2.4GHz. The top speed of existing Opteron models, such as the 248, is 2.2GHz.

So far, the Opteron's 64-bit approach--which means the chip offers the ability to run both 64-bit and 32-bit software--has resonated with a number of customers and won AMD alliances with three of the four largest server manufacturers.

Because Opterons can run 64-bit software, they help boost the performance of servers by allowing them to address 4GB or more of memory. The extra memory is particularly helpful for applications such as databases. However, the chips can also run 32-bit software, which still accounts for the bulk of server applications.

Several of AMD's largest customers will offer servers that contain the Opteron model 250, the chipmaker said. Sun Microsystems, for one, released performance specifications for its SunFire V20z server equipped with model 250, indicating that version of the machine will come out soon. Hewlett-Packard and IBM also offer Opteron servers.

Looking ahead, AMD wants to boost the Opteron's performance even more, while increasing its presence in the market for four-processor servers. So far, HP has added a four-processor Opteron server as part of its ProLiant model line. Sun has said it is working on a four-processor Opteron server as well.

As part of its efforts to boost performance, AMD has begun using its new 90-nanometer manufacturing process to produce the Opteron and its sister PC chip, the Athlon 64, which are sometimes collectively referred to as the AMD64 chips.

The new manufacturing process, which shrinks the average size of chip features from 130 nanometers to 90 nanometers, will allow AMD to produce chips that offer higher performance or which are less power-hungry, depending on the environment in which they're used.

"We have already begun initial production of 90-nanometer AMD64 processors, and we are on target to begin shipping 90-nanometer processors for revenue in the third quarter," Marty Seyer, general manager of AMD's microprocessor business unit, said in a statement.

"Shipping for revenue" in the third quarter means that AMD will begin delivering the chips in large quantities at that time, although severs containing those chips might not come out until later.

The new chips will occupy the top of AMD's price structure. The Opteron model 250 lists for $851 when bought in 1,000-unit quantities. Model 850 will be $1,514 and model 150 will cost $637 when bought in such quantities.

Along with the introduction of the new chips, AMD shifted its existing processors down one pricing notch, meaning that model 248, which had been $851 when bought in 1,000-unit quantities, now lists for $690. Model 246, which had been $690 in such quantities, now lists for $455.