Processor Whispers: About Races, Returns and Rendimientos
by Andreas Stiller
The new server processors, Nehalem-EX from Intel and Magny-Cours from AMD, are not official yet but the competition between the four-cylinder Formula One racers is already in full swing. They are even available to order at British and Canadian online shops.
Various server systems with the 8-core Nehalem-EX will be being admired at CeBIT, a few weeks before the actual launch. Who can blame the companies, seeing how SGI was allowed to go strong with this processor in its UltraViolet system at Supercomputer 2009 three months ago. The nice thing about the Nehalem-Ex is the variety of solutions that the manufacturers can come up with for the memory extension, and the interlinking of multiple racks or blades, made possible by QuickPath. And with the cheap “Celeron version” of the Nehalem-EX, a slightly slower 6500 family with fewer QuickPath interfaces, Intel plans to further diversify the market.
While there are still no official performance specifications for the Nehalem-EX, various numbers have been circulating the internet for quite a while now; like the ones on the Spanish Bull website (no, not the Osborne bull, but the French company, Bull).
The diagrams show the Westmere-EP processors X56XX, the new 6-core processors with 32-nm technology that are also waiting to start from the pole position shortly after the end of CeBIT. They will be launched under the codename Gulftown as single processors for the touring car league - the high end desktop-PCs.
Racing Season 2010
Shortly after the start of the Formula One racing season (Mid-March in Bahrain) AMD intends to enter the race with its 8- and 12-core Magny-Cours (Opteron 6000), despite the traditional Formula One venue Magny-Cours circuit backing out of the much too expensive Formula One circus. Even so, AMD’s logo will probably still decorate the rear spoilers of the Ferrari racers during this season and, probably, beyond. It’s just possible that Abu Dhabi's Mubadala, Ferrari’s new major sponsor and AMD’s saviour, has greased the wheels a bit and so the next AMD chip could very well be named Yas Marina Circuit – after the name of the racing circuit in Abu Dhabi, which will be this year’s location for the season’s final Formula One race.
The first Opteron 61xx processors at $7700 for the four core version, and servers, like the Tyan server (Opteron 6174) for $25000, are already being sold on eBay. According to manager John Fruehe, AMD has been delivering the chip for the G34 socket (with 1944 pads) to the server manufacturers since the end of January. Internet price comparison sites reveal three Magny-Cours versions so far, the Opteron 6168 (1.9GHz), 6172 (2.1GHz) and 6174 (2.2GHz). They all have 12 cores and a “TDP” of 115 watts – although the latter might refer to the AMD-specific Average CPU Power (ACP). The processors can also be ordered at British online shops, starting at around £595 (about $905). 8-core processors from the Opteron 6100 series are also available; according to the comparison sites these are: Opteron 6128 (1.5GHz), 6134 (1.7GHz) and 6136 (2.4GHz).
The performance of the Opteron 6174 should be somewhere near to 430 SPECint/fp_2006 in 4-socket systems. That’s not enough to compete with the top products of the Nehalem-EX family; the Xeon X7560 with 2.26GHz should – according to the “Expectativas” – get more than 600 in a 4-socket system. However, a lot can still be done through pricing to get the AMD server sector, which has been down on its knees since the Barcelona disaster, going again. At a comparatively cheap €1030 (about $1400) – the current online price – the Opteron 6136 only costs one third of what the Xeon X7560 (2.26GHz, 24MB L3, 130 watts TDP) is sold for at Canadian online outlets; a noble 4407.89 Canadian dollars (about $4191).
The rotation of the processor carousel at AMD is not the only movement at the company; the personnel carousel is also turning. The Canadian Ian McNaughton, who had come to AMD from ATI and was then promoted to marketing manager, has suddenly and unexpectedly left the company – his reasons and plans as yet unknown. Taking into account that the company’s ATI-rooted graphics sector is doing much better than its stricken server department, that’s a surprising development indeed. It is surely helpful to be the only one selling DirectX 11 cards.
Competitor Nvidia will probably still need some time to catch up. The Californian Company hopes to be able to make the first Fermi graphics cards available to testers near the end of this quarter. However, another month or two will probably pass by before mass production can set in. The not-so-very-accurate internet rumour mill simmers with reports of serious design problems and manufacturing difficulties with the 3 billion transistor chip, currently the largest chip by far. The A3 step is still at a relatively early stage though.
Some Intel processors, for instance, don’t hit the market before reaching E step. But then, one can also generate sales by selling old DirectX 10 cards, mobile graphics chips and chipsets: Nvidia’s turnover increased to $983 million in the last quarter – twice as much as in the same quarter last year. And so, Nvidia was able to make a profit again, $131 million. For the whole financial year 2010, however, the total amount is $68 million – in red ink. The only hope is that Nvidia makes a comeback with the Fermi chips soon because AMD/ATI without competition is just as bad as Intel with an x86 processor monopoly.
Due to a request from Bull, Spain, the graphic "Expectativas de Rendimiento" originally included from the presentation at http://www.bull.es/events/Carlos_Villacastin.pdf was removed.