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AMD Barcelona officially available -- at last

AMD has introduced Barcelona, its quad-core processor, offering better performance at the same power requirements as dual core, as well as virtualization and power-saving features.

For more on AMD's quad-core processor:
AMD quad-core Barcelona supported by OS heavyweights
Licensing on quad-core processors gets tricky

Intel introduces new quad-core Xeons as Barcelona nears
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) officially introduced its long-awaited Opteron quad-core processor today, packing more performance into the same thermal envelope as its dual-core offering as well as introducing virtualization and power-saving features.

Code-named Barcelona, the chip will be unveiled via a webcast at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time on Monday, Sept. 10. In August the company began shipping Barcelona to OEM partners and took its time in getting broad industry support for the new chip before officially announcing it.

Moving to quad core
By the end of this year, the company will phase out single-core processors, which currently account for 5% of AMD sales. Dual-core processors will be on the market through 2008, as some applications are not designed to scale to quad-core processors, said John Fruehe, worldwide market development manager at AMD.

"Most of the world has transitioned to dual core, and we anticipate a quick transition to quad core," said Fruehe.

[With AMD's quad-core] processor, I can double the processing capacity without increasing power consumption.
Nicolas Keller,
 director of platform productsRackspace Managed Hosting

Barcelona is part of the company's second-generation platform and is AMD's first 65-nanometer (nm) chip for servers. Next year, the company plans to introduce a 45-nm quad-core processor, code-named Shanghai, followed by a 45-nm octal-core processor on a third-generation platform in 2009 that is code-named Sandtiger.

Users with a dual-core processor can upgrade to quad-core and beyond seamlessly, as both chips share the same power requirements and thermal envelope, Fruehe said. But there is no seamless upgrade from single-core to quad-core processors, he added.

"Every application will take advantage of quad-core processors to some degree … like virtualization," Fruehe said. "The more cores you throw at it, the happier it will be. But customers should check to be sure of which products work best on quad-core and which do not."

What took so long?
Fruehe explained the lag in AMD's transition from dual- to quad-core processors -- the company is almost a year behind the first of many quad-core processor from Santa, Calif.-based Intel Corp. -- saying that customers benefit when upgrades come slowly.

"CIOs get excited when they see hardware longevity," he said. "Some vendors have transition periods as short as three months, which makes it difficult for data centers to manage. It's great for Intel, but not good for the customers who are forced into transitions when the timing isn't right for their business."

In contrast to Intel's Xeon quad-core processor, which is a pair of dual cores stuck together, AMD's Barcelona is the first "native" quad-core chip.

What's the significance? On a native quad-core chip, the cores can speak to one another directly. With two dual-core processors on different pieces of silicon, the information on the cores have to leave the chip to speak to its neighbor, said Fruehe.

"You get more power savings out of a native quad core," he said. "Gluing two dual core processors together is the cheap way to get a 'quad core' processor onto the market, but it requires more power with lower performance and scalability."

When Intel released the Clovertown version of Xeon last year, it fused a pair of dual-core processors with a multichip module (MCM). The quad-core processor allowed Intel to claim a server processor technology milestone that exceeded AMD's progress for the first time in about three years.

But Intel sticks to its guns on its Xeon technology, claiming its Xeon quad-core processors "have the performance crown, and the performance-per-watt crown." Intel says there is no value in having all four cores on a single die.

"We are interested in end-user performance. You can get the same performance out of two die as one; there is no advantage of going from two to one," said spokesperson Nick Knupffer.

Core control
AMD's Dynamic Core Technology allows each core on the native quad-core processor to operate individually; so when a core isn't being used by an application, it throttles down while other cores operate at different levels.

Dual-core chips don't have this capability; nor do two dual-core chips fused together, as is the case with like Intel's Xeon. These chips have to operate in tandem, Fruehe said.

The Dual Dynamic Power Management with integrated power controller is the "secret weapon" that allows power to be distributed to the memory and the CPU at different levels, depending on what the application requires, according to Fruehe. This feature adds 3% to 5% performance gain, depending on the application, he said.

"If one core on a dual-core chip is running at 75%, the other core has to run at 75% as well, even if it isn't being used. This is another reason why gluing two dual-core chips together is a power disadvantage: The cores cannot throttle down at all on dual cores," Fruehe said.

The Barcelona chip will also include a feature called Rapid Virtualization Indexing. Typically, each virtual machine communicates with the server memory through a hypervisor. AMD's Rapid Virtualization Indexing application cuts out the need for memory translation; thus no software is required for translation. The translation capability is built into the processor for all major virtualization software, such as VMware, Microsoft, Xen and a few others, Fruehe said.

The AMD-V feature allows users to do live migrations of virtual machines between all Opteron processors,and processors of the future.

Saving power, adding performance
Over the past four months, Rackspace Managed Hosting has been testing the Barcelona chip and has decided to deploy the quad-core processor in all of the servers it manufactures, said Nicolas Keller, director of platform products at Rackspace.

The data center colocation and hosting provider headquartered in San Antonio has more than 30,000 Intel and AMD-based servers across eight data centers and adds about 800 every month. Rackspace works with major hardware vendors, including Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., in addition to manufacturing its own servers, Keller said.

The company turned to Intel's quad-core processors in its Dell servers because of customer demand. Keller said the difference in performance between AMD and Intel depends on the type of application, but he added that AMD's quad-core chip has attributes that are important for large data centers.

He said the ability of the AMD quad-core processor to throttle down when not in use allows Rackspace to save on power. It also uses no more power than the dual-core Opteron did.

"From a data center point of view, the new [AMD quad-core] processor gives more performance at the same power as dual core, so I can double the processing capacity without increasing power consumption," said Keller.

He also said the memory architecture is "great for Web hosting applications, because there is a lot of memory management on the CPU, which is important when you are managing lots of data and databases."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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