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Intel Versus AMD

Intel’s Xeon 7500-Series CPUs Target Enterprise Computing

Intel certainly has numbers on its side: more than 90 percent of the server market is x86, and Intel owns more than 80 percent of that pie. AMD had gone from zero percent marketshare in 2003, when it launched the Opteron, to 20 percent in record time, only to fritter that away by delaying the launch of the quad-core Barcelona processor in 2007.

AMD has gotten its mojo back with a series of releases that were on time (or ahead of schedule, in some cases) and delivered decent performance at a lower price than Intel. Slowly, AMD regained its good standing with the major server OEMs, and with each subsequent Opteron launch, has more OEMs.

AMD's latest processor is Magny-Cours, an eight- and 12-core Opteron. The company took the six-core "Istanbul"-era Opteron and connected two of them with a high-speed HyperTransport interconnect. The eight-core design is simply two six-core Opterons with two cores disabled on each.

Those in the technical know will say AMD is being hypocritical by doing this, since that was Intel's solution for its first quad-core Xeons. It took two dual-core processors and "glued" them together on the same die. But Intel's solution was less elegant.

For starters, if a core on one CPU wanted to communicate with the other core, the data would have to go out through the front side bus and back in to the CPU. This was an inefficient design, although Intel still got some decent performance out of those kludgey designs (Intel didn't hesitate to point this out, either). With Magny-Cours, a point-to-point HyperTransport interconnect between the two CPUs is many times faster than the old Xeon solution.Magny-Cours does not use Hyper-Threading (a proprietary Intel technology), but does have 8/12 cores versus the four/six in the Xeon 5600. I bring up the 5600 because AMD has never positioned M-C as a competitor to the Xeon 7500-series; it sees the Intel Xeon 5600 processor family as its primary competitor. Now, the technical argument of two cores vs. one core with two threads is an article in and of itself. Hyper-Threading does maximize the execution of code in one core, getting two threads or processes done with one core. But in the end, AMD will argue cores trump multithreading, and the benchmarks will prove or disprove this.

The 5600 is a two-socket mid-level processor good for the majority of server tasks, whereas the 7500/6500 will be for the mission-critical and high performance markets. That's about the one area where Intel and AMD will meet is in HPC.

Twice per year, the Top500 supercomputer list, a ranking of the fastest known supercomputers in the world, is released and every company involved issues press releases for bragging rights. Both Intel and AMD are targeting HPC with their respective chips. You might see a few on the list that comes out this June, but you will definitely see a bunch of 7500- and Magny-Cours-powered servers on the November list.

Magny-Cours is also aiming to lower the economics of the four-socket market. Dual-processor (2P) servers are fairly economical, but when you go to a quad-processor (4P) server, the price goes up by a factor of four or more. AMD refers to this as the "4P tax" and its goal is to bring the cost of a 4P server down to about double that of a 2P, perhaps even less.

While AMD would love to compete against the Xeon 7500, more likely it will compete with the 5600 in the mid- to upper-mid range of servers, and do so quite adequately at a competitive price.

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