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Opteron price cuts pave way for new dual-core chips

Socket tech to help AMD introduce virtualization, support faster memory, but older chips need to make way for the new.

Advanced Micro Devices cut prices on several Opteron processors this week as the company prepares to introduce new memory technology and a new socket for its server chips.

Multiple chips within the Opteron 200 series and Opteron 800 series processors now cost far less than they did last week, said Jane Kovacs, an AMD spokeswoman. The 200-series processors are designed for servers with two processors, while the 800-series chips are designed for four-way servers.

Prices of the most powerful chips in each class, the dual-core Opteron 280 and Opteron 880, fell 34 percent and 43 percent, respectively. The 280 now costs $851, down from $1,299, and the 880 now costs $1,514, down from $2,649. The prices are only a guide that reflect orders in quantities of 1,000 units, since server vendors often negotiate their own pricing, which can differ from published prices. Enthusiasts pay a different price for processors sold at retail stores.

AMD and Intel have sliding price scales, and they typically cut prices before introducing chips set to replace older ones.

AMD plans to add support for DDR 2 memory to its Opteron processors by the middle of this year, it said at its fall analyst meeting. DDR 2 can reach faster speeds than the DDR (double data rate) memory currently supported by AMD's chips, but the company had held off making the transition because the integrated memory controller used by those chips is more sensitive to the higher latency of DDR 2, AMD said last year.

Latency is a measure of the delay experienced by a signal traveling from one point to another, and higher-latency memory forces AMD's on-chip memory controller to wait longer for those signals, eroding its advantage over Intel's front-side bus design.

The new chips will also use a new socket to connect the processor to the motherboard. This socket is not compatible with current dual-core Opteron processors. However, the new socket technology will enable AMD server vendors to drop quad-core Opteron processors into the same motherboards used by the upcoming dual-core chips, company executives said last November at AMD's analyst meeting. AMD is also expected to introduce its Pacifica virtualization technology in the upcoming Opteron processors.

Chipset vendor Silicon Integrated Systems (SIS) announced a new series of chipsets last week designed for an upcoming AMD socket called AM2. SIS said those chipsets would support Opteron processors but were designed primarily for desktop PCs.