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Servers, benchmarks greet Opteron

Advanced Micro Devices releases its touted Opteron processor, and a number of companies follow with servers, chipsets, software and benchmark scores.

Advanced Micro Devices released its touted Opteron processor on Tuesday, and a number of companies followed with servers, chipsets, software and benchmark scores.

Server maker RackSaver, for instance, announced three servers, including the four-processor Quatrex-64, which beat all other four-processor servers on one key benchmark test and bested all but one other server on a second test.

The Quatrex-64 managed 82,226 transactions per minute on the Transaction Processing Performance Council's TPC-C benchmark--second only to a four-processor Itanium server from Hewlett-Packard that scored 87,741. The next best system was another HP machine, which scored 77,905. Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, noted that TPC-C is one of the benchmarks commonly used to compare systems.

Similarly, the system beat out all others on the price/performance benchmark, which divides the transactions per minute by the cost of the machine. The Quatrex-64 pulled in a score of $2.76, just ahead of a single-processor Dell Computer system that scored $2.78. The HP Itanium system's price/performance benchmark was $5.03.

Graphics chip designer Nvidia, meanwhile, unveiled its nForce 3 chipset for Opteron workstations, the company's first chipset for the corporate market. Earlier, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, SuSE, Red Hat and IBM said they would come out with software for the chip.

The long-awaited Opteron represents financially strapped AMD's best hope to date for selling chips for servers and other corporate computers. It can run 32-bit software, which is found on desktops and on one- and two-processor servers, and 64-bit software, found on high-end servers. Intel's Itanium can do the same thing, but to date the performance of 32-bit applications running on the chip has been poor. But a new version of Itanium, code-named Madison, will have technology geared to improve the performance.

While much of the focus has been on the bilingual nature of the chip, AMD and its partners will tout Opteron's ability to handle 32-bit applications in the coming months. That's because servers running standard 32-bit software account for close to 90 percent of the market in terms of units shipped and for nearly half of the market's revenue.

Initially, the chip will be used in two-processor servers because AMD's first chips--the Opteron 240, 242 and 244--are geared for two-way systems.

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Most of the Opteron servers coming out this week will be based on the Newisys 2100, which will start around $2,200 when configured with one processor. Newisys sells some computers but mostly licenses its designs to other manufacturers.

The 2100 will hold up to two Opterons, two 36GB hard drives and 16GB of memory, said Kevin Baker, director of marketing for AMD. A typical configuration will come with two processors, two 36GB disks and 6GB of memory and sell for around $7,000. Microway, RackSaver and others will sell computers based around the 2100 design, Baker added.

In the coming weeks, many of these companies will also begin to sell Opteron blade systems and four-processor systems based on Newisys designs. Technically, RackSaver is already selling the four-processor Quartrex, which starts at around $10,000, but customers that order now won't get delivery for 90 days, a RackSaver representative said.

Although just being released, some of these systems are already running at select customers. A national security agency in North America has already deployed a number of Newisys-based servers in a pilot program, said Baker.

Big computer makers are also looking at selling servers based on the Newisys design. "There are two top-tier OEMs who are most interested," Baker said, referring to original equipment manufacturers. Analysts speculate that IBM and Sun are contemplating selling such systems.

Nvidia, meanwhile, hopes to capitalize on the popularity of its chipsets in the AMD-based PC market and of its graphics chips in general to propel sales of the nForce 3.

About 70 percent of all workstations containing an Intel or AMD microprocessor also come with one of Nvidia's Quadro FX graphics chips, noted Drew Henry, general manager of the platform group at Nvidia. In addition, he said, the company now controls about 22 percent of the market for AMD chipsets--a figure that could rise to 50 percent by the end of the year.

Getting into the corporate market, though, isn?t easy. "The drivers can't change a lot. You've got to make sure the (overall computer architecture) is stable," he said. To ease concerns, Nvidia is promising computer vendors that it will make the same chipsets and support the same original drivers for at least six quarters, Henry said.

Meanwhile, Cadence Design Systems, which makes semiconductor design tools, announced it has ported its design-for-test (DFT) software to the AMD64 chip family.