AMD Cranks Up Dual-Core Opteron Clocks
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices continues to crank up the clock cycles on its dual-core 64-bit Opteron processors, and yesterday announced that it had delivered dual-core chips running at 2.4 GHz, a bump up of 200 MHz that gives the Opteron a bit more performance advantage compared to single- and dual-core Xeon processors from Intel in the same power class.
Unlike the Opteron Special Edition (SE) chips that Sun Microsystems was talking up a few weeks ago when it announced its "Galaxy" line of Opteron-based Sun Fire rack-mounted servers, which clocked in at 2.4 GHz but which ran at a higher than standard voltage and therefore had a 120-watt thermal envelope, the new Opterons launched yesterday are standard chips that fit in a 95-watt thermal envelope but still deliver the same performance as the Opteron SE chips. Sun was talking up the fact that it could support the Opteron SEs in its Galaxy machines because it believes that the Opteron-based servers from IBM and Hewlett-Packard could not support these chips in their respective eServer and ProLiant machines--something that neither company has confirmed or denied--but because the Galaxy servers were delayed for so long, now IBM and HP will be able to use 95-watt 2.4 GHz Opterons in their machines. Of course, because AMD always has an SE part (the so-called "n+1" part, which means it is a rev on the chip that can run at a faster cycle time and a higher voltage than the standard part), Sun should, in theory, be able to get a 2.6 GHz or so Opteron into the Galaxies now. So it should still have a slight advantage in terms of performance.
In any event, AMD is announcing that the Opteron 880, which is used in four-socket motherboards and the few eight-way systems that are shipping today, and the Opteron 280, which is used in two-socket motherboards for both servers and workstations, running at the higher 2.4 GHz clock speed is available today. According to Brent Kirby, product manager for AMD's server and workstations group, the Opteron HE processors, which have a 55-watt thermal envelope, always lag two speed bumps back (that would be n-2), and that for embedded applications, the Opteron EE chips, which have a 35-watt envelope, are three bumps back (that would be n-3). So it will be a while yet before low-wattage Opterons at these clock speeds and performance are available in the 800 Series and 200 Series processors.
It will also be a while before the Opteron 180, for single-socket servers and workstations, is available; within 30 days, in fact, according to Kirby. The dual-core 100 Series of Opteron processors--the 165, 170, 175, and now the 180--use unbuffered ECC main memory and offer a slight performance benefit, core for core and clock for clock, compared to the chips in the 800 Series and 200 Series. However, the standard 100 Series processors have a 110-watt thermal envelope, which is the same thermals set by AMD for its 64-bit Athlon line of desktop processors.
AMD is attempting to command a premium for the three new dual-core Opteron processors, and it is a premium that is higher than the performance benefit compared to the slightly slower Opterons that came before them. On the SPECint_rate2000 benchmark, a two-socket machine using the dual-core Opteron 280s running at 2.4 GHz had a rating of 76.8, which was 11 percent higher than the performance of the same machine using the dual-core 2.2 GHz Opteron 275; On the SPECjbb2000 Java OLTP benchmark test, the new dual-core Opteron 280 only delivered 5 percent more oomph than the Opteron 275. But the Opteron 280 costs $1,299 in 1,000-unit quantities, compared to $1,051 for the Opteron 275. And while the faster Opteron 880 delivered about 9 percent more oomph on those same two SPEC workloads compared to the Opteron 875s in a four-socket server, that slightly faster chip costs $2,649 in 1,000-unit quantities, compared to $2,149 for the 2.2 GHz Opteron 875. That's a 23 percent premium for 9 percent more performance. And what this pricing also seems to be is a page out of the Intel Playbook, where Intel always changes a premium for the fastest chips in its bins.
To AMD's credit, it is charging the same price for its fastest dual-core 2.4 GHz Opteron 180 as it is charging for the single-core Opteron 152, which runs at 2.6 GHz--$799 a pop. But AMD was overcharging in the same way for the Opteron 152, since the 2.4 GHz Opteron 150 (also a single-core) cost only $367 in 1,000-unit quantities. And the dual-core 2.2 GHz Opteron 175 only costs $530. As of yesterday, AMD has also set a pricing parity between its two slowest dual-core processors in the 800 Series and 200 Series and the fastest two single-core variants.
Kirby says that AMD is keen on spurring the adoption of dual-core processors. And there are no surprises there, since the "Paxville" dual-core Xeon DP processors are expected to come in at an estimated 110 watts or so (Intel has not confirmed the Paxville DP's clock speed or watts) plus an extra 22 watts for a memory controller compared to the 95 watts of the standard dual-core Opteron running at 2.4 GHz, which includes its memory controller on chip.