New AMD Processor Focused On Energy Efficiency Over High Performance

Chip maker AMD has introduced its new Opteron 4000 series processor line, code-named Lisbon, that focuses on energy efficiency rather than raw performance, because that's what cloud providers and small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) want in their data centers. Two models in the 4000 series operate at as little as 32 watts for a six-core processor, versus a comparable Intel chip that operates at 40 watts. A six-core 4000 series processor operates on 24 percent less power than an older 6-core 2

June 23, 2010

3 Min Read
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Chip maker AMD has introduced its new Opteron 4000 series processor line, code-named Lisbon, that focuses on energy efficiency rather than raw performance, because that's what cloud providers and small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) want in their data centers. Two models in the 4000 series operate at as little as 32 watts for a six-core processor, versus a comparable Intel chip that operates at 40 watts. A six-core 4000 series processor operates on 24 percent less power than an older 6-core 2000 series AMD processor.

"This is the world's lowest power per core server processor. This is unprecedented new territory that we're getting into here," said Gina Longoria, senior product manager for server and workstation products at AMD. AMD also breaks through the sub-$100 price point barrier, selling a 4000 for 2P environments (two processors per server) at $99 each, for orders of 1,000 units. That low cost also appeals to SMBs who need to manage smaller IT budgets, Longoria said.

The 4000 series differs from the Opteron 6000 series, introduced in March and dubbed Magny-Cours, that was targeted at the market for traditional rack, tower and blade servers built in 2P or 4P configurations. Magny-Cours chips come in 8-core and 12-core versions while the Lisbons come in 4-core and 6-core versions.

Cloud providers should prefer the power efficient 4000 processors because they have to deploy many more servers in their data centers but may have space limitations. "They need to optimize around a solution that offers them the best density," Longoria said.

A server rack with a power supply of 5.5 kilovolt amps (KVA) can only accommodate 19 servers with 152 cores on two-year old AMD 2300 processors before it's maxed out. With 4000 series processors installed, the same rack can be filled up with 42 servers using the same power supply. The processors are also designed with multiple power efficiency features, such as AMD's PowerCap Manager, allowing IT managers to set power consumption limits on processors, and CoolSpeed Technology to reduce server power if thermal limits are being approached. The processors also include an Advanced Platform Management Link to deliver more processor level data through the server's management console.AMD research showed operators of traditional data centers are more focused on raw performance, core scalability and memory scalability, but that operators of cloud data centers are less focused on those and more focused on power efficiency, density and cost. "The way their applications are designed might not be that processor-intensive and so they're very focused on making sure they are optimizing around performance per watt, per square foot and per dollar," Longoria said.

To be sure, Intel is also marketing low-power chips for the cloud provider space, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at the research firm Insight64. He cited Intel's Westmere Xeon line, some of which operate at 60w and 40 watts and are priced at $958 and $530, respectively. Some of the new AMDs operate at 50W and 32W parts and are priced at $255 and $316, depending on the number of cores. The AMD chips are "dramatically undercutting Intel's price and consuming a tad less power," Brookwood noted. "The Intel systems will most likely offer a tad more performance on CPU benchmarks, but users in this segment don't care that much about CPU performance, so that advantage won't make much difference here." (Disclaimer: AMD paid the travel expenses for this reporter to take briefings on the Lisbon news in Austin, Texas.)

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