Saturday, January 9, 2010

AMD's Server Roadmap Plots a Course for HPC

Our recent coverage of AMD's Financial Analyst Day outlined the chipmaker's overall server strategy for the next couple of years, but left a lot to the imagination with regard to how all this might play out in the high performance computing space. The presentation for the analysts barely acknowledged the HPC market, instead emphasizing AMD's main thrusts in the mainstream server and client segments. In a more recent conversation with John Fruehe, AMD's director of product marketing for the server and embedded group, we were able to get a better idea of how the company sees its HPC prospects for 2010 and beyond.

One might wonder how much AMD -- or Intel, for that matter -- thinks about the HPC market these days. Despite a better growth rate than the mainstream server market, HPC still only represents between 2 to 10 percent of server chip revenue, depending on who you talk to. In the commodity chip business, that's too small a segment to inspire separate processor designs, but too big to ignore. "The beauty of HPC," says Fruehe, "is that you have an opportunity to sell large numbers of processors in a single shot." According to him, that is reason enough to stay in the game.

And in any case, many mainstream enterprise applications require essentially the same performance characteristics as HPC workloads: large numbers of fast cores and high memory bandwidth. The soon-to-be-released 45nm Magny-Cours Opteron sports 8 or 12 cores and four memory channels. That design, says Fruehe, is well-suited to HPC workloads, and he believes it will help them capture more of the server market in 2010. Magny-Cours' current competition is the quad-core Nehalem EP, which has three memory channels, and the 8-core Nehalem EX that can support up to eight sockets. The idea is that Magny-Cours will outrun Nehalem EP on memory bandwidth and out-compete Nehalem EX on price and power consumption.

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