AMD to ship first Bulldozer server chips in Q3

AMD's first Bulldozer chips to ship will be 16-core Interlagos processors

Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday said it will start shipping next-generation Opteron server chips based on the new Bulldozer architecture starting in the third quarter next year.

The first Bulldozer server chips are code-named Interlagos and will come with up to 16 cores, said Phil Hughes, an AMD spokesman. The chips are designed for mid- to high-end servers and will replace existing Opteron 6100 chips, which are code-named Magny-Cours and contain up to 12 cores.

The Interlagos processors will be in production starting in the second quarter and can be plugged into existing servers with Opteron 6100 chips, Hughes said. The Interlagos chips are socket-compatible with the older servers based on Magny-Cours chips, which should enable fast transition for server customers.

AMD has also said that next year it would release Bulldozer chips code-named Valencia, which will contain up to eight cores and should replace existing quad- and six-core Opteron 4100 chips. Hughes declined to provide further guidance on when those chips would be released.

The Bulldozer microarchitecture was built from the ground up by AMD and brings new features to boost speed and save power. In internal benchmarks, the company has measured up to a 50 per cent performance improvement in Bulldozer chips compared to predecessors.

To improve performance, the new architecture brings flexibility in the way tasks are executed across processor cores. Processor cores can be paired to share components inside a CPU. For example, the architecture can share specialized components like the floating point unit between two CPU cores, providing a wider pipe to execute more operations per clock cycle. This flexibility also reduces the size of chips, as they require fewer components, and the execution efficiency results in power savings.

The Bulldozer chip, with its multiple cores and improved internal bus architecture, is competitive, said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat.

But the server market moves at a slow pace, so market reaction won't be visible for six to 12 months, McGregor said.

"Until we get the parts tested and verified, it's going to be hard to judge," McGregor said.

The new architecture will also put AMD in an interesting competitive position against Intel, which dominates the server market. AMD may have an advantage on the number of cores it offers in chips, but Intel's domination may not end anytime soon, McGregor said.

Intel is expected to release Westmere-EX server chips, which will pack in 10 cores, to succeed processors code-named Nehalem-EX, which include up to eight cores and are considered the company's fastest processors to date. The release date for Westmere-EX chips has not yet been announced.

Intel held 93.5 per cent of the x86 server processor market during the second quarter this year, while AMD's share was 6.5 per cent, according to a study released by IDC in August.

The Bulldozer architecture also provides the building blocks for AMD to develop future generations of chips, McGregor said. In addition to multiple cores, the company could add different types of cores to server chips as it looks to boost system performance.

AMD has already talked about integrating graphics processors inside future server chips to boost the performance of certain math, scientific and imaging applications.

AMD last week also updated its server road map, announcing plans to release a 20-core chip code-named Terramar in 2012 to succeed Interlagos. The Terramar chip will be targeted at two- to four-socket systems. The company also announced a 10-core chip code-named Sepang, which will also be released in 2012 and succeed the eight-core Valencia chips.

The company said that the server chips to be released in 2012 will come with improved power management and virtualization capabilities.

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