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'Rev F' ends single-core Opteron era for AMD

Chipmaker launches a final version of its single-core Opteron server processors, paving the way for quad-core models.

SAN FRANCISCO--Advanced Micro Devices will launch "Rev F" versions of its Opteron chips in the third quarter, a move that ends the single-core server processor era and paves the way for four-core models.

The company had discussed some Rev F details before, but in a meeting here Monday, on the eve of its rival's Intel Developer Forum, product marketing manager Kishna Weaver narrowed the launch date to the third quarter from just mid-2006.

With Opteron, AMD has opened a new front in its decades-long competition with Intel. Intel previously had the x86 server market to itself with its Xeon model, but with Opteron, AMD beat Intel to market with several features and has been gaining market share. One such feature was the use of dual processing cores.

All Rev F models will be dual-core chips, AMD said. And the Socket F connector, with 1,207 electrical connections, will accommodate quad-core Opterons scheduled to arrive in 2007, the company said.

The dual-core to quad-core transition strategy is similar to the approach the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker took with its Socket 940, which accommodated both single-core and dual-core Opterons. That approach let computer makers reuse the same designs for the new chips.

Intel also plans to release its first quad-core Xeon models in 2007--"Clovertown" for dual-processor systems and "Tigerton" for four-socket systems.

The Rev F models are built using the same 90-nanometer manufacturing process as current Opterons. In late 2006, AMD plans to begin its move to a 65-nanometer process; Intel started 65-nanometer chip production in 2005.

A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Newer manufacturing processes shrink the size of electrical circuitry so more can fit in a given chip area. That lets chipmakers lower costs and add new abilities, such as multicore designs, to chips.

Also coming with the Rev F chips will be Pacifica and Presidio, features for improved virtualization abilities and security. Memory will be faster and consume less power with the move from the first version of DDR (double data rate) memory to DDR2. The chip's high-speed cache memory will stay the same, 1MB per core, and will continue to use a single on-board memory controller to communicate with a computer's memory system.

When Rev F models debut, AMD will consolidate two low-power versions into a single line, said Brent Kerby, AMD's Opteron product marketing manager.

With today's Opterons, AMD offers standard models that consume a maximum of 95 watts, a high-efficiency "HE" version that runs slower but consumes 55 watts, and a special edition--for large customers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard--that runs at full speed but consumes only 68 watts.

When Rev F arrives, though, the HE models will run at 68 watts, he said. That provides a better balance of processing oomph and power consumption.

AMD's PowerNow technology, which cuts processor speeds when computing demand is low, also gets an update for Rev F. Currently, a computer's BIOS software must be updated to accommodate a faster new Opteron model, but that requirement is eliminated with the Rev F chips.