Yet again AMD is poised to beat Intel to market with cutting-edge chip technology. But even though some customers are calling for Dell to use AMD processors, Dell -- the lone holdout among hardware makers -- has a strong incentive to pass. With the launch of AMD's dual-core Opteron processors expected this week, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems are preparing to unveil the second generation of their Opteron servers.
At the Dell analyst meeting in Austin, Texas, during the first week of April, however, Dell executives reiterated the company’s short-term intention to remain a one-processor vendor. But as usual, Dell refused to completely rule out the prospect of releasing a product based on AMD’s Opteron server processor or its Athlon 64 desktop chip. Although the company’s ongoing flirtation with AMD does generate headlines, it is designed mainly to wring additional concessions from Intel, according to analysts and industry insiders.
Opteron’s integrated memory controller and multiple Hypertransport interconnects help it outperform Intel’s Xeon processor on many benchmarks, especially those that measure the performance of memory-intensive applications. That advantage is expected to improve with the advent of dual-core processors. Intel’s first dual-core Xeon processors for two-chip servers will share a bus connection to memory, which could hurt the processor’s performance on applications that require the fast shuffling of data to and from memory.
University of Buffalo professor Russ Miller, who runs the university’s Center for Computing Research, cited problems with Intel’s bus architecture design as the main reason why Opteron remains alluring to the high-performance computing community and to business customers as well.
“We don’t see an option from Dell,” Miller said. “But we know this is important to our industry.”
Intel, for its part, has changed its bus architecture in products designed for servers with four or more chips. Its Truland platform, unveiled last month and designed for both single-core and dual-core chips, uses dual-independent front-side buses to double the number of pathways from the processors to the memory.
Opteron’s performance advantage over Xeon should be more evident this year. AMD will start shipping dual-core Opteron this week, but Intel is not expected to release a dual-core Xeon product until early 2006.
HP, IBM, and Sun are all expected to support the dual-core chips this year. HP was the first company to demonstrate a dual-core Opteron server; IBM is expected to release blade servers based on the dual-core chips; and Sun is making dual-core Opteron chips the centerpiece of a new generation of servers code-named Galaxy.
Dell, however, shows no signs of changing its position regarding AMD in the near future, despite the fact that Rollins had several nice things to say about AMD last year.