Review Index:

AMD Opteron Processor Launch and NVIDIA nForce3 Pro

Author: Ryan Shrout
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Opteron Specifications and Information

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Officially as April 22nd, AMD has launched onto the world three Opteron processors. The Opteron 240, 242 and 244 are the models released.

The new Opteron processor model numbering system is even more archaic than the Athlon XP system; and also more generic. All Opteron model numbers will consist of three numeric digits: the first being the “scalability” number, representing the maximum number of processors supported. This means that an Opteron 2xx can be included in either a 1- or 2-way setup and an Opteron 4xx can be used in a 1-, 2- or 4-way system and finally Opteron 8xx processors work on systems with up to 8 processors. The second and third digits relate a performance level relative only to within that particular series. This means that an Opteron 244 has higher performance than an Opteron 242. By how much and for what reasons, the model number system isn’t able to tell.

I, like many others out there, probably have problems with this new model number system mainly due to the second and third digits. Knowing that your new Opteron 440 is slower than an Opteron 444 doesn’t really tell you anything – WHY is it slower? As we know the Opteron will be coming out with processors with different levels of frequency and different levels of cache, we can assume then that processors that have similar model numbers could vary drastically in specifications. For instance, an Opteron 252 might run at 2.6 GHz and have 1 MB of cache, but then an Opteron 250 might run at 2.2 GHz but have 2 MB of cache. Even if the performance numbers for a general collection of benchmarks justify this kind of rating for both processors, there are many cases and uses that these processors would differ dramatically in speed. And, as AMD is targeting the enterprise market, that has very specific tasks for machines, such as a database server that needs large amount of cache to be faster versus a web server that needs a higher frequency to be faster, you can see the confusion that may ensue from an IT manager's point of view. The model numbering system just doesn’t give the buyer enough information.

Opteron Pricing

Opteron processor pricing also became available officially at the launch event. Here’s how they stand:

AMD Opteron 240 - $283

AMD Opteron 242 - $690

AMD Opteron 244 - $794

These prices are nearly exactly on the money with current Xeon prices from Intel. The Intel Xeon 2.6 GHz is set at $284 and the Xeon 3.06 GHz is at $690. AMD’s numbers show that the Opteron 242 is the equivalent processor to the Xeon 3.06 GHz processor and thus the 244 model has a higher price than anything Intel has available.

Public pricing for sale online, via our service shows a slightly different picture. As of this publication, the prices are as follows:

AMD Opteron 240 - $298

AMD Opteron 242 - $737

AMD Opteron 244 - $861

I would expect these prices to fall down to at least the MSRP that AMD is listing, and perhaps even further by the June time frame.

These prices are still very high compared to what we are used to seeing from AMD’s processor line. As AMD has restated time and time again, the Opteron is not meant to be a consumer level product and really not even a product for the high-end enthusiasts; though there are always a few that will grab onto it anyway. The prices are aimed at what the enterprise and workstation markets are used to paying and allow AMD to be very competitive in this market.

A week or so ago, I asked our readers to email me in their responses to the following question: “Would you be willing to pay the somewhat higher prices for Opteron processors and somewhat higher prices for single CPU Opteron motherboards, say around $250-300, in order to get the Hammer technology sooner?” The answers I got were in the majority of no, at least not without seeing a significant increase in performance in current 32-bit operating systems and applications. Most readers cited that Athlon64 will have a much-improved frequency (probably) and thus be a better performer for the desktop markets.

Opteron Partners

The big question that has been on investors mind when it comes to AMD’s Opteron processor launch is what partners we would see announcing their support and intent to build for or on the Opteron platform. At the launch event, we had the opportunity to hear from several of those partners and meet with many of them as they stood with their demo products including servers and software.

Some of the bigger names that officially showed their support on Tuesday in New York were IBM, Microsoft, Computer Associates, Fujitsu Siemens, Oracle, RedHat and SuSE Linux distros. Other organizations such as JAK Films, the company responsible for working with George Lucas on pre-visualization for the Star Wars films came on stage to show their support and enthusiasm for working on Opteron systems. IBM’s DB2 database software has long been one of the crown jewels of AMD software arsenal. At the launch event, IBM officially announced that the AMD64 version of DB2 for Linux was available for download and that the AMD64 version of DB2 for Windows was nearly done with development.

Besides the DB2 win, IBM also announced their migration to using the Opteron in their line of IBM branded servers and in their super computing on-demand station. The super computing station is clustered super computer that IBM lets companies and organizations buy time on, so they can do their research without having to pay the prices to build their own super computer.

Microsoft also was on hand to briefly discuss their Windows Server 2003 line and how it affected the Opteron processor. MS told us that while the Windows Server 2003 software will be 64-bit capable from the first day of sales, it will be near the end of the year until a version is released with support for the x86-64 instructions (now known as AMD64 technology).

Official AMD Benchmarks

While I don’t have a system here yet for testing, I have both 1P and 2P systems on the way and will have lots more for you to see when they arrive and are tested. For now, I’ll show here some of the official benchmarks that AMD is showcasing on their site.

There are several additional benchmarks available at the official AMD site.