Sun blade servers to use AMD chips

The server maker says it will use the laptop version of Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon XP processor in its upcoming "blade" servers--but it's not leaving Intel out in the cold.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Sun will use the laptop version of Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon XP processor in its slim "blade" servers coming later this year, the company said Monday.

The move gives a small boost to AMD's efforts to follow rival chipmaker Intel into the market for servers--computers that process and store data over a network. However, Sun isn't endorsing AMD's grander strategy to profit from the industry shift from 32-bit to 64-bit processors.

"For this blade form factor, AMD provided the better solution from a technical perspective," Sun spokeswoman Kasey Holman said. Sun will use the Athlon XP-M with processor speeds starting at 1.2GHz.

However, Holman said Sun's decision to use AMD in the forthcoming blade server doesn't rule out Intel for future products. "We're not completely wedded to either vendor," she said.

A key part of AMD's strategy for penetrating the server market is a 64-bit chip technology called x86-64. The technology lets its processors, which can run software written for Intel processors, handle much more memory than current 32-bit models. Asked if Sun planned to use AMD's 64-bit extensions, Holman said, "There are no long-term implications based on this decision."

AMD declined to comment on Sun's move.

Blade servers are smaller systems that are fitted side-by-side within a single chassis, sharing resources such as power supplies and external network connections. Sun's blade servers are scheduled to arrive in April fitted with its own UltraSparc IIi processors, the company said earlier this month. Intel-compatible blade models are set to arrive midyear.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based server maker declined at the time of the announcement to say what variety of Intel-compatible processor it would use. InfoWorld reported the Sun decision to use AMD Monday.

Sun's first blade servers will have a single processor, though the company plans to follow rivals Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM in launching dual-processor models, Sun has said. Those rivals--which also plan to release more powerful blade servers--use Intel but not AMD processors in their blade servers.

After years of touting its own UltraSparc processors as sufficient for all manner of computing, Sun last year bowed to market realities and accepted general-purpose Intel-compatible computers into its server line. Its first model, the LX50, uses Intel processors.

But relations between Sun and Intel have been antagonistic at times. An alliance between the companies to bring Sun's Solaris operating system to Intel's much-delayed high-end Itanium processor family fell apart in the late 1990s.

Sun supports the Linux operating system on its Intel-compatible products, but argues that customers who want less-expensive Intel-based servers will prefer to use a version of Solaris instead.