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AMD’s Bulldozer-based 16-core Opterons arrive

AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) has beaten Intel to the punch on two processors launched aimed at supercomputers. Formerly code-named Interlagos and Valencia, AMD’s new Opteron 6200 and 4200 processor families went on sale today (Nov. 14, 2011) and are based on its Bulldozer chip architecture. Their design is aimed at systems handling workloads of high-performance computer, virtualization and cloud computing architectures.

The new chips arrive after the company sliced its workforce by 11 percent, saying it needed to cut costs in order to keep pace with rivals like Intel. With the chips, the company is looking to improve on its small and eroding share of the server market. At the end of the third quarter this year, Intel’s share of the PC server processor market stood at 95.1%, while AMD topped out at 4.9%, according to IDC.

AMD is targeting the processors at the three main segments of the server market: corporate data centers using virtualization technology, web-scale data centers supporting public and private clouds, and high-performance computing. “You’ve got to be, to some degree, everything to everyone,” said John Fruehe, director of product marketing for AMD’s server products.

The Opteron 6200 ups the number of cores in an x86 server processor to 16, though it’s hard to make a direct comparison to processors with traditional cores. Each Bulldozer module consists of a pair of integer units and a floating point unit that share resources, including cache. Each integer unit has four pipelines, and each floating-point unit has two floating-point processors. Eight modules yields a processor with 16 cores. In traditional multi-core processors, each integer unit has its own set of resources.

AMD claims an 84 percent performance advantage over Intel’s comparable Xeon processor. Fruehe acknowledged that performance comparisons between the top AMD and Intel processors aren’t always relevant to the average customer, who typically buys a mid-performance processor. “Where customers are actually spending their money, we’re able to deliver significantly more performance,” he said.

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