AMD rolls out re-branded Athlon MP

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. on Monday extended its new True Performance Initiative branding strategy to a set of Athlon MP (multiprocessor) chips for workstations and servers.

Following the precedent set by AMD's introduction last week of a re-branded line of desktop Athlon XP chips, the new Athlon MP processors are identified by model numbers that represent the relative performance instead of internal clock speed.

The re-branding strategy is a continuation of AMD's campaign to change the way customers judge processor performance, said Richard Sah, product marketing manager for workstations and servers at AMD, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif. AMD wants customers to view compute performance as a result of overall system performance and not merely a hyperfast processor.

For the three Athlon MP chips, the model number 1800+ roughly equals a 1.53GHz processor by overall system performance; the model 1600+ equals a 1.4GHz chip; and the model 1500+ equals a 1.33GHz chip, according to Sah. All three MP chips are available immediately from AMD.

Performance benchmarking by AMD using modeling, 3-D animation, and rendering applications show all three models of the Athlon MP chip out-performing Intel Corp.'s 1.7GHz Xeon workstation and server chip by as much as 20 percent, according to Sah.

AMD attributes the Athlon MP's performance to a combination of the chip itself, coupled with AMD's 760 MP chip set and the use of DDR (double data rate) memory, Sah said.

The idea that a balance of overall system components supercedes stand-alone chip speeds as a metric for performance is a concept well understood by users of high-end computing systems. Many of the world's fastest supercomputers use sub-1GHz processors working in conjunction with fast I/O, caching, and other system components to achieve lightening-fast operation.

Unlike AMD's Athlon XP chips, which are primarily targeted at consumer PC buyers accustomed to judging performance solely on chip speeds, Sah believes AMD stands a better chance of selling the re-branded Athlon MP chips to a more technically savvy workstation and server user market.

"I do agree that for the server and workstation folks, they have the knowledge base to understand [AMD's new performance metric]," Sah said.

So-called "white-box" computer manufacturers that make and sell high-performance workstation and servers and offer an alternative to systems sold by tier-one companies such as Dell Computer Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., and IBM Corp., also represent a growing market for AMD's XP and MP chips.

"We are getting ready to ship more processors to tier-two and tier-three companies," Sah said. "I think AMD will continue to gain momentum in this space."

Still, AMD has a difficult road ahead if it hopes gain further ground in the high performance world of workstations and servers, said Dean McCarron, analyst with Mercury Research, headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Certainly people who are buying MP systems are a lot more technically sophisticated, so [AMD's performance] argument will play better with them. But we need to be realistic about multiprocessors from AMD. MP implies server-level chips, and even Intel has problems selling chips into the server market and workstation market," McCarron said.

"You are likely to see sales [of AMD MPs] in the thousands instead of the millions," he said.

Pricing for AMD's Athlon MP chips start at US$180 for the model 1500+, $210 for the model 1600+, and $302 for the model 1800+, each in lots of 1,000 units, according to AMD.

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Dan Neel

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