AMD has officially introduced the next generation of its Opteron server processor with a new emphasis on power-efficient performance and better support for virtualisation.
Codenamed Shanghai, the processor is AMD's first 45nm chip and boosts performance by up to 35 per cent for the same price and power consumption as the current Barcelona Opteron family, the company said.
Virtualisation has also been enhanced with hardware-based virtual memory management and faster switching between virtual machines. Another key new feature, according to AMD, is the ability to migrate live workloads seamlessly across servers using AMD or Intel processors.
AMD said that Shanghai, which is shipping now in volume, fits into existing servers designed to take Barcelona chips. Dell, HP, Sun, IBM and Fujitsu Siemens were among the vendors present at the launch showing off Shanghai-ready systems.
AMD is aiming the new version of the Opteron at datacentres, where power consumption has become at least as important as performance. The company said that annual power and cooling costs now represent more than 50 per cent of spending on new servers.
"Customers told us that any innovation has to impact their bottom line. They want more performance but less power, and help with managing heterogeneous environments," said Leslie Sobon, AMD vice president of worldwide product marketing.
One customer endorsing Shanghai is Germany-based Strato, which claims to be the second largest web hosting provider in Europe with about 26,000 servers, most of which run on AMD chips.
The company is already using some Shanghai-based servers and has found that these can handle 25 per cent more transactions per watt than its existing kit, according to chief technology officer Julien Ardisson. Strato had settled on AMD-based servers because comparable Intel-based models could not fit within the firm's power consumption limits.
IDC analyst Thomas Meyer suggested that Shanghai shows a return to form for AMD, following difficulties with its Barcelona chip.
"Overall it's a positive perception, and what they've shown so far looks good," he said, adding that AMD has taken an approach on performance-per-watt that should appeal to enterprise customers.
However, rival Intel is soon to launch its new Nehalem architecture, which could alter the situation again, although the first of these chips will target desktop systems.
"In terms of the competitive landscape, I expect the see-saw [between Intel and AMD] to continue," Meyer said.
As well as moving to 45nm, Shanghai doubles the L3 shared cache size to 6MB and adds support for DDR2-800 memory, delivering 10 per cent more bandwidth than with Barcelona.
The new Opterons are initially available at clock speeds of 2.3GHz up to 2.7GHz in 75W versions, while 55W HE and 105W SE versions will ship in the first quarter of 2009.
Looking further ahead, AMD still plans to ship a six-core version of the Opteron called Istanbul in the second half of 2009, followed in 2010 by a new platform with 12-core and six-core processors codenamed Magny-Cours and Sao Paulo.
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