The future of 64-bit computing will enter a new phase with the release of the Opteron processor by AMD today.
Designed for computing-intensive server applications -- databases, applications servers, clustered high-performance computing -- the x86-64 chip will run at speeds of 1.4GHz, 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz. (AMD's other 64-bit chip, the desktop and notebook-oriented Athlon 64 chip codenamed Clawhammer, is scheduled for a September 2003 release.) The allure of the Opteron, according to AMD officials, is that corporations can transition to higher-performance 64-bit computing without the need to adopt an entirely new IT infrastructure: you can in theory just drop Opteron-based servers in the place of existing 32-bit servers and not miss a beat running 32-bit applications while preparing new 64-bit applications. Operating-system vendors like Microsoft and SuSE have announced support for the Opteron.
"Initially, it's the computing farm and the database servers that will see the first adoption of Opteron servers," says Kevin Graf, AMD Opteron Brand Manager. "This will be followed by transaction servers. Later on, you'll see messaging servers, content servers, and file/print move to 64-bit computing."
But, if Graf's predictions are correct, you won't see Opteron-based servers make inroads against RISC-based UNIX systems. "That will be the smallest share of our market, as that's an installed-based argument -- corporations are unlikely to put a lot of effort into upgrading existing RISC servers," Graf says. "For the transition to happen, it must require no effort whatsoever -- you buy a server and install it. That's not true of RISC systems." "It is time for all us in technology industry to change our ways," AMD CEO Hector Ruiz told a crowd of more 300 or so media and analysts gathered in New York City for the official product introduction. "New technology should not introduce new barriers, it should knock them down."
A Radical Conservative Design
The Opteron is radical -- it represents a totally new CPU architecture, system platform, and even microcode support all rolled into one. But the Opteron is conservative -- AMD's x86-64 architecture runs current 32-bit applications, and quickly, while giving forward-thinking buyers a transition path to 64-bit computing rather than the start-from-scratch approach of Intel's 64-bit Itanium family.
The 0.13-micron-process silicon-on-insulator Opteron -- a 90-nanometer-process successor will arrive in 2004 -- features two more pipeline stages than AMD's Athlon XP; instructions-per-clock-cycle boosters such as enhanced branch-prediction algorithms and larger translation look-aside buffers; support for the SSE2 streaming multimedia instructions that debuted in Intel's Pentium 4; and up to 1MB of Level 2 cache, all in a new, plus-sized processor die or 940-pin ceramic package. (The Athlon 64 will use a different, 754-pin socket.)
Both the Opteron and Athlon 64 boast 64-bit data and address paths and break through current 32-bit CPUs' 4GB memory addressing cap with 40-bit physical (up to 1 terabyte) and 48-bit virtual (up to 256 terabytes) memory addressing space. The Opteron also supports three HyperTransport links, providing up to 19.2GB/sec of bandwidth, versus the Athlon 64's single HyperTransport link for 6.4GB/sec of data transfer.
AMD says HyperTransport technology helps slash system bottlenecks, boost efficiency and increase system throughput by reducing the number of buses.