Opteron lands IBM workstation spot

Big Blue plans to use AMD's Opteron processor into a workstation next year, an endorsement that could help the chipmaker gain acceptance in the crucial corporate market.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--IBM will incorporate the Opteron processor from Advanced Micro Devices into a workstation next year, an endorsement that could help AMD gain acceptance in the crucial corporate market.

Although the product details are vague, Big Blue has committed to putting an Opteron chip into a workstation, high-end desktops used for financial modeling and computer animation, Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager of AMD Microprocessor Business Unit, said in an interview here at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. An IBM spokesman confirmed that the company intends to deliver an Opteron workstation next year.

Microsoft is expected to release a version of Windows that has been optimized for Opteron by the first quarter, according to sources. Versions of Linux tweaked for the chip already exist.

Penguin Computing, meanwhile, will come out with three new Opteron servers and a workstation by the end of the month, representatives from Penguin stated.

IBM's adoption of the chip is crucial to AMD's plans to expand into the mainstream business computing market, Seyer said. Government agencies, universities and small businesses have gradually bought more computers containing AMD processors over the past few years. Operton has proven popular with high-performance computing customers such as the University of Michigan.

Corporations, though, have yet to embrace AMD-based computers in large numbers, in part because most brand-name computer makers favor Intel processors. A few companies, such as Daimler-Chrysler and Industrial Light and Magic, have implemented AMD-based systems, but it's not yet a mainstream choice.

"With IBM we gain more credibility," said AMD's Seyer. High-performance computing "is where IBM is going to help us."

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IBM has already agreed to use Opteron in its servers and released a server, the e325, last week. More than 1,000 of the servers will be used into a clustered supercomputer IBM is building for Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). The AIST cluster will be operational around October, added Seyer.

The Opteron chip can run 32-bit software, the kind found on most desktops today, and 64-bit software, which is found mainly on high-end Unix machines. The big advantage to computing in 64-bit mode is that the computer can handle more than 4GB of memory, the limit on 32-bit boxes.

Increasing the amount of memory in a computer increases performance because more data can be kept "close" to the processor, rather than on the hard drive. In workstations and PCs, this leads to better graphics and game performance because complex, changing 3D backgrounds and scenes can be kept in memory.

While only a few applications require 64-bit capabilities, AMD anticipates customers will want it. "There is going to be an instant uptick on 64-bit" processors, Seyer said.

Fujitsu-Siemens has also agreed to come out with an Opteron workstation, and AMD is in discussions with other major computer manufacturers, Seyer added.

San Francisco-based Penguin Computing will release a four-processor server (the Altus 4200), two two-processor servers (the Altus 3200 and 1200) and a workstation (the Tempest 2100) later this month, said Aaron Ockman, a company representative.