AMD Quads Gaining Ground

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Two key server deals and some impressive new benchmark data for the quad-core Opterons provide AMD with a much-needed boost as it looks to regain some of the steam lost to last year's production delays.


The question remains, though, whether the company can make enough headway in quads to position itself as a strong competitor to Intel as the industry moves forward in the multicore race.


The news this week was certainly good for AMD. First came word that IBM will power its latest set of System x servers with quad-core Opterons. The x3455, x3655 and x3755 machines are said to be more efficient processors than previous models, improving performance for memory-intensive applications like Web-serving and high-end number crunching while cutting power consumption. The top-end x3755 offers a more flexible design that easily scales up to four sockets, although the company says the three-socket design already out-performs many four-socket systems.


Then came Unisys, which tapped the quad Opteron for the latest member of the ES7000 series, the 7405R. The machine holds up to eight processors, which, combined with the company's Rapid Virtualization Indexing technology, offer both enhanced memory and processing capabilities for virtual environments. The system supports up to 128 virtual machines, with each machine costing only about a third compared to standard two-socket quad servers. Multiple operating environments are also supported, including Windows Server 2003 and 2008 Datacenter, Microsoft Virtual Server, RHEL, SLES and Solaris 10.


Meanwhile, Dell has just released benchmark results for the 2.5 GHz Opterons showing across-the-board improvement in comparisons to Intel quads, and even better scaling performance. The Opteron 2360s showed equal performance to Intel's Xeon 5482 device in SPEC2006 CPU integer tests, while the higher-end 8360 Opteron came within 10 points of the Xeon 7350s. And the 2360 SE Barcelona chip out-performed the 3.2 GHz Xeon 5482 in floating-point tests. A full breakdown of the results can be found here.


Still, not all the momentum is shifting toward AMD. Intel recently forged an agreement with Cray to develop a new line of supercomputing processors for high-performance applications. Until the deal, Cray had been solidly in the AMD camp, using various high-end Opterons to develop some of the fastest hardware in the world. Development at Cray was said to be hampered by AMD's difficulty in getting their quads to market last year.


For most users, and probably a fair number of enterprise managers, underlying processor technology is a concern only for hardware manufacturers and system integrators. Cost/performance trade-offs do have some bearing on the brand of processor under the hood, but most of us simply want a reliable machine that gets the job done.


Still, monopolies are never good for business, unless of course, you happen to own the monopoly. So even if you are solidly in the Intel camp, a vibrant AMD is the best way to ensure you get the most for your money.