AMD releases Opteron "Shanghai" Server processor

Today AMD announced that it will begin shipping its latest processor the "Shanghai" quad-core Opteron processors for servers and workstations and will talk about the new chip today in its annual Financial Analyst Day event from its HQ in Sunnyvale, CA

"Randy Allen's presentation will cover the launch of our first 45nm microprocessors code-named "Shanghai" for servers and workstations. With 45nm parts for servers launching, 45nm desktop parts will soon follow. Randy will also shed some light on our "ultra portable" notebook strategy". Said a AMD representative
So what's New with "Shanghai"?
According to AMD the new chip is a big improvement over the "Barcelona" chip, bringing lower thermals, better performance and greater bang for the credit crunched buck.

The chip is designed using the 45nm technology using a new technique called "Immersion Lithography". The cache has been increased to 8MB and the core frequency rises up to 2.7GHZ from a 2.3GHZ base model. And the chip features an integrated memory controller supporting up to DDR2-800.

Learning from past mistakes
AMD had problems with the release of its original Barcelona chips, they had a nasty bug that could cause servers to fall over and need a reboot, which is a big no-no in the real-time mission critical world of business. This time around AMD has stated both publicly and privately that things will be different after heads rolled and they changed the way QC control and Engineering sections worked.

They also point to the fact that this is the fastest "wafer to production" AMD has ever achieved and also uses a new process called "Immersion Lithography".

AMD's original plan was to release the new chip right at the end of Q4 08. In fact the chip will be going into production systems from today with a lot of OEM support from the likes of DELL, Sun, IBM, Cray and HP. That is roughly 8-10 weeks earlier than originally planned.

Interestingly AMD decided to use the "Immersion Lithography" a generation earlier than is needed. Immersion lithography is a photolithography resolution enhancement technique that replaces the usual air gap between the final lens and the wafer surface with a liquid medium that has a refractive index greater than one. In other words the liquid acts as a contact lens and give a greater focus to enable ever smaller chips to be fabricated.

The new technique is commonly associated with processes below 37nm and is already used by Canon and Nikon in there camera making process.

AMD explains this early jump as a chance to gain experience with the new technology before the jump to 32nm when it becomes mandatory.

Both Intel and AMD will be using the process when they transition to 32nm sometime around 2010-2011 timeframe.

Shanghai the processor for the Credit Crunch
AMD is pushing the fact that its processor continues to be designed for lower power use, lower TCO (total cost of ownership) and Drop-In support for the new chips.

The new design supports the ability to move data to the L3 cache and shut down the cores independently.
When the core is going to sleep data is taken from the core's independent L1 and L2 cache and placed in the 6MB of L3 cache, which all the cores share access. The core is then shut down. When the data is needed it can be retrieved, without the need to wake the sleeping core first.

This and other improvements using the 45nm process allow Shanghai to use up to 21% less power than its older Barcelona design and up to 35% less when idle, while still increasing its clock-for-clock performance by around 35%.

Also the fact the core is Drop-In compatible with existing motherboards with just BIOS updates is another fact
that AMD is pointing to in an effort to keep costs lower in the current financial climate. As well as the fact that the new models are going to cost the same price but with a 200MHz increase in speed. A current Barcelona Opteron 2.3GHz will sell for roughly the same price as the new Shanghai 2.5GHz part giving it instant ability to reduce IT
department budgets or get better performance for the same speed.

AMD is shouting about the Virtualization performance of its new chip, as part of its "Fusion" ethos. By tweaking the way it works at the chip level AMD claims to have increased its performance by up to 35% at the same clock frequency as Barcelona.

AMD-V adds a virtualisation layer (extensions to the x64 architecture) allowing fast and efficient switching between VMs. AMD's extensions have gained industry support from all of the major software suppliers including Sun, Microsoft and RedHat and VMware.

Another useful ability is to be able to move "live" VMs to different hosts allowing quick and easy server upgrades, load balancing and disaster recovery while increasing uptime availability.

More Shanghais incoming
While announcing the new processor AMD also announced that it plans to release its HE (low voltage) and SE (high performance) Parts in Q1 09.

SE parts are also expected to be the first time AMD is going to crack the 3GHz barrier, Intel is already doing so with its "Harpertown" CPU

Back in the game?
Most technology analysts agree that this new chip puts AMD back in the game when it comes to the server market. They took a big nock with Barcelona and have managed to match if not beat Intel's batch of Server Xeon CPUs.

This will come as a welcome relief to AMDs bank balance after having to go "asset light" by splitting of processor manufacturing to the newly formed "Foundry" company and receiving billions of dollars of investment from Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

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