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AMD releases 45-nm Shanghai Opteron processor on schedule

AMD has shipped Shanghai, its next-generation quad-core Opteron processor, on schedule. Shanghai consumes less power, is faster, has more memory and costs less than Barcelona.

Today, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) released its next-generation 45-nanometer (nm) quad-core Opteron processor, code-named Shanghai. The new chip offers more memory and better performance per watt at half the price of Shanghai's predecessor, Barcelona.

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AMD's next-generation architecture underlying Shanghai includes some of the popular features of Barcelona, such as virtualization-assist technologies and power-efficiency features, but improves on them and is more cost-effective, said Burke Banda, the product marketing manager of AMD's Server and Workstation Division.

In addition, Shanghai's release comes on schedule with it's processor roadmap, which signals AMD's effort to get back on track after a public drubbing following the release of Barcelona and a subsequent discovery of errors in the processor.

Targeting memory-hogging workloads
As enterprises turn to virtualization for increasingly workload-intensive uses, CPU technologies like Shanghai help hone performance and efficiency in virtual environments. And a major advantage of moving from 65 nm to 45 nm is the power draw; the 45-nm processor draws the same 75 W of power as the larger Barcelona chip while offering better performance and speed (2.3 GHz to 2.7 GHz), Banda said. Shanghai also includes 6 MB of Level 3 (L3) cache, compared with 2 MB on the Barcelona chip.

AMD may be poised to regain some of the respect it lost in the Barcelona shuffle.

Shane Rau, the research director, computing, networking, and storage semiconductors at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said having 6 MB of L3 cache is ideal for workloads that require a lot of memory like those for virtualization. The hardware-assist "support for virtualization is also key because it helps make a server more efficient in utilizing all of its resources--processors, memory and storage."

Shanghai offers the same virtualization technologies as Barcelona, including Rapid Virtualization Indexing (RVI), or Nested Page Tables, which reduces the performance overhead of virtualizing large applications, such as databases. In fact, one VMware engineer deemed AMD's Nested Page Table technology the answer to virtualizing large workloads. Most virtualization software takes advantage of AMD-V, including VMware and Citrix XenServer, but Hyper-V version 1.0 does not, Banda said.

Shanghai also includes Extended Migration to migrate live virtual machines (a process VMware calls VMotion) across the various generations of AMD Opteron processors. Without extended migration, live migration is only possible between similar processor families. This feature does not, however, allow live migration between different vendor CPUs.

AMD says that Shanghai is now the only x86 processor that supports two- to eight-socket systems while maintaining its socket and thermal compatibility with previous-generation AMD processors. Because Shanghai is drop-in compatible with the 65-nm Barcelona, OEMs don't have to redesign their motherboard to upgrade, Banda said.

Shanghai also includes the new power-down feature Smart Fetch that reduces server power consumption up to 35% by instructing cores to "halt" during idle times, without affecting performance, Banda said. Also, AMD's CoolCore technology, which reduces power to unused sections of the processor, has been extended out to the L3 cache, so each level of cache memory can be turned off when not in use.

Regaining market footing
When AMD brought Barcelona to market in September 2007, the company experienced some public pain when it halted the release because of an errata. Until its correction in April 2008, AMD didn't resume mass shipments of Barcelona. But now that it has released Shanghai on schedule (and Banda claimed they are releasing it a few months earlier than expected), AMD hopes to regain its footing in the market. "We learned lessons from the Barcelona processor launch; it was well received when it arrived on the market, but there were ramifications from the starts and stops in getting it out there," Banda said.

Intel just celebrated it's one year anniversary of releasing its 45-nm Xeon quad-core processor.

IDC's Rau said by rolling out Shanghai now, AMD is poised to regain some of the respect, and possibly market share, it lost in the Barcelona shuffle.

"AMD's emphasis is on showing the market that it has recovered its ability to execute on its product roadmaps, its promises to customers," Rau said. "It's also AMD's first 45-nm product, so AMD is showing the market that this processor technology will roll out smoothly in processors for other system form factors."

Companies that invested in Barcelona this year and now see a newer, better chip so soon after its commercial release may not be happy with AMD's scheduling, and to twist the knife, the 2.3 GHz Shanghai processor retails for $377 – about half the price of Barcelona when it hit the market earlier this year (at the time, a 2.3 GHz Barcelona retailed for $690), Banda said.

For what it's worth, users who want to upgrade to Shanghai don't have to change their infrastructure, because Shanghai fits into the same Socket 1207 architecture as Barcelona for seamless upgradeability, Banda said. Socket 1207 is also planned for use in the next generation processors from AMD, code-named Istanbul.

The 75 W quad-core Opteron processors ranging from 2.3 to 2.7 GHz are available immediately, and other versions (HE 55 Watt and SE 105 Watt) of the processor will be available in Q1 2009, AMD reported.

In conjunction with AMD's announcement, a number of server vendors announced support for the new chip, including Dell, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer. And check out our data center blogs Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead and Data Center Facilities Pro


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