Light at the end of the tunnel for AMD with Istanbul

Intel’s Nehalem is looming on the horizon and promises to take the crown in every aspect of enterprise & high performance computing. Intel has been talking about Nehalem for so long that it almost seems like Nehalem is a couple of years old even though the launch has not yet happened. Talk about marketing!

AMD has taken quite a beating with Intel’s new Core micro-architecture featured in its latest server processors (starting from Intel Xeon Woodcrest to Intel Harpertown). AMD Opteron Shanghai managed to hold its ground in the 4P space and lost a lot of market share on the DP space. Or in Intel’s latest terminology, EP space (Efficient Platform). The MP is now called the EX or Expandable Platform.

Istanbul, the next Opteron series from AMD features six cores and a faster HyperTransport interconnect. There have been a lot of official & unofficial news on Istanbul online in the recent past. AMD is maintaining its platform compatibility with Istanbul as well. If you already own a Shanghai or Barcelona based Opteron server, you should be able to upgrade to Istanbul processors with as little effort as a BIOS upgrade. The only requirement on the board being that it support Split Plane Power, also known as Dual Dynamic Power Management feature. DDPM allows the integrated memory controller and processor cores to run at varying levels of performance thus leading to enhanced power management.

Initial evaluations of Istanbul stand to prove that Opteron is still relevant in the High Performance (HPC) & Enterprise markets and is a strong competitor to Intel’s Nehalem processor. An Opteron 4P platform (four socket, quad core, 16way) is demonstrating up to 40 GB/s of memory bandwidth compared to the ~25 GB/s of AMD Shanghai Opteron system. Read the full report from TechReport here. Istanbul Opteron CPUs feature a number of new technologies that make it a strong contender for the Nehalem CPUs. HyperTransport 3.0 being the most notable enhancement, along with AMD’s implementation of a snoop filter, HTAssist.

Following is a brief video about the platform compatibility between Shanghai & Istanbul processors. AMD has been delivering platform compatibility so much better than Intel for a long time and the savings to the end user are tremendous. Talk about upgrading to a newer & better processor in under 10 mins!

Compare that with the costs involved in replacing an existing server with another brand new server. And talk about the price of DDR3 memory that Nehalem needs. DDR2-800 that Istanbul will use has pretty much become main stream and the pricing should be very competitive compared with the DDR3 modules. AMD has let Intel take the responsibility of stabilizing DDR3 costs and will probably position a DDR3 enabled CPU at the right time.

So what does AMD have going for it right now with Istanbul:

Bad economy – Businesses & customers would be more sensitive to pricing. Istanbul provides the best value for customers who already own a Shanghai or Barcelona based server. In-socket replacement, very low downtime for upgrades and better performance with just a change of CPU.

DDR2 memory – DDR2 memory is now priced very competitively against DDR3. This brings down the overall cost of the system. Istanbul will use DDR2 instead of the more costly DDR3 memory. This probably will be a repetition of the same situation as FullyBuffered DIMMs. FBDIMMs were costly & hot degrading the overall value of the Core micro-architecture. DDR3 may do the same for Intel’s Nehalem given the current circumstances.

Tried & Tested – AMD Opteron has had the integrated memory controller for a long time. Intel’s Nehalem platforms are brand new with a totally new architecture & components. New Micro-architecture, new memory architecture, new memory technology & other minor new components like power distribution & supporting chipsets – bring so many new components together & its hard to get everything right the first time. Customers will probably take a wait & see attitude towards the Nehalem platform than go gaga over the latest & greatest

Here is a brief video talking about DDR2 & DDR3


Here is another video demonstrating a 4 socket AMD Opteron system much like our own A1403 Quad Opteron 16way server and HiperStation 4000.


And stay tuned to see a 48-core server soon!


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