AMD Pushes Single-Core Opteron Clocks to 3 GHz
Published: April 13, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices is keeping the pressure on industry juggernaut Intel in the market for high-end processors for workstations and servers, and this week announced that it had pushed up the clock speeds on its single-core Opteron 64-bit processors to 3 GHz.
While everyone in the server industry is talking about performance per watt for processors and other components in the system, AMD has been gradually raising the clock speeds while keeping the Opterons within a thermal envelope that keeps the system makers happy. The Opteron 146/246/846 series of chips for single socket, dual-socket, and quad-socket cell boards, respectively, ran at 2 GHz when they debuted in 2003. Since that time, AMD has been ratcheting up the clock speed in 200 MHz increments, and the thermal design power (TDP) of the single-core chips has only increased from around 89 watts to 95 watts. The last few iterations of the single-core and dual-core have all had a 95-watt TDP, and they have been manufactured using a 90 nanometer chip fabrication process on 200 millimeter wafers.
Last week, AMD opened up production on its Fab 36 factory in Dresden, Germany, shifting from 200mm wafers to the larger 300mm wafers, which will allow it to increase yields and chip volumes at the same time. Fab 30, which has been making the other Opteron parts, uses 130 nanometer and 90 nanometer processes on the smaller wafers, but Fab 36 is where AMD will eventually make chips based on a 65 nanometer process. However, the factor will also be used to make the future "Rev F" Opterons, which are based on a 90 nanometer process. AMD believes that it can get enough performance within its TDP of 95 watts (including a memory controller) to keep pace with Intel, which will be delivering its "Woodcrest" Xeon DP chip early in the third quarter with an expected 80-watt TDP, with perhaps another 15 to 20 watts for a memory controller. The Opteron architecture embeds the main memory controller on the chip, so any fair comparison between Opteron and Xeon chips has to take this into account. With the kickers to the Rev F chips, which are also known by the internal code name "Santa Rosa," AMD will eventually move to a 65 nanometer process, which will enable the company to drop the thermal envelope and keep performance constant or boost performance in the same TDP. AMD may decide to do both.
With the world moving toward dual-core and then on to quad-core chips, you might be wondering why AMD is bothering with single-core Opterons at this point. Well, not every workload in the world can use lots of threads; some of them--like single-threaded batch jobs or a Java virtual machine--are more dependent on clock speed and cache memory speeds for performance than they are on threads. So some companies still need as many gigahertz as they can squeeze out of a single thread.
The single-core Opteron 256 for two-socket servers and workstations is available today, and costs $851 in 1,000-unit quantities. The existing Opteron 254 runs at 2.8 GHz and costs $690, which means customers have to pay a 23 percent premium for about 7 percent more oomph. This is clearly not something that many customers will do. Particularly when a dual-core Opteron 280 running at 2.4 GHz and arguably delivering about 35 percent more performance than the single-core Opteron 256 running at 3 GHz (except on thread-ignorant workloads, of course) costs the same $851. And if you want to talk about performance per watt, then the Opteron 270 HE costs the same $851, runs at 2 GHz, but only burns 55 watts. The HE is short for Highly Efficient, and these chips are a variant of the Opteron that runs at a lower voltage and a slightly lower clock speed as the regular Opterons with the 95-watt TDP. The single-core Opteron 856 costs $1,514 in 1,000-unit trays, and the same comparisons hold true to dual-core standard and HE parts.
AMD says that the faster Opteron 156 chips for single-socket machines will be available within 30 days. The company no longer provides pricing for these processors, claiming that they are sold mostly through the channel and, in some way that is inexplicable to me, having a list price from AMD on these chips is messing up that channel. The same could be said for the Athlon 64 X2, FX, and mobile chips, but AMD still provides list prices for these. Go figure.
Sun Microsystems, which arguably has the tightest partnership with AMD among the tier one server makers, was first up to announce support for the faster single-core Opterons in its "Galaxy" Sun Fire servers as well as in its Opteron-based Ultra workstations. IBM is promising to add the chip Opteron 256 to its IntelliStation workstation line within 30 days, and it can obviously deploy the chip in its eServer 326m rack-mounted server as well as its BladeCenter LS20 dual-socket blade servers.