Quick-Take: AMD Dodeca-core Opteron, Real Soon Now

March 3, 2010

In a recent blog, John Fruehe recounted a few highlights from the recent server analyst event at AMD/Austin concerning the upcoming release of AMD’s new 12-core (dodeca) Opteron 6100 series processor – previously knows as Magny-Cours. While not much “new” was officially said outside of NDA privilege, here’s what we’re reading from his post:

1. Unlike previous launches, AMD is planning to have “boots on the ground” this time with vendors and supply alignments in place to be able to ship product against anticipated demand. While it is now well known that Magny-Cours has been shipping to certain OEM and institutional customers for some time, our guess is that 2000/8000 series 6-core HE series have been hard to come by for a reason – and that reason has 12-cores not 6;

Obviously the big topic was the new AMD Opteron™ 6000 Series platforms that will be launching very soon.  We had plenty of party favors – everyone walked home with a new 12-core AMD Opteron 6100 Series processor, code name “Magny-Cours”.

– Fruehe on AMD’s pending launch

2. Timing is right! With Intel’s Nehalem-EX 8-core and Core i7/Nehalem-EP 6-core being demoed about, there is more pressure than ever for AMD to step-up with a competitive player. Likewise, DDR3 is neck-and-neck with DDR2 in affordability and way ahead with low-power variants that more than compensate for power-hungry CPU profiles. AMD needs to deliver mainstream performance in 24-cores and 96GB DRAM within the power envelope of 12-cores and 64GB to be a player. With 1.35V DDR3 parts paired to better power efficiency in the 6100, this could be a possibility;

We demonstrated a benchmark running on two servers, one based on the Six-Core AMD Opteron processor codenamed “Istanbul,” and one 12-core “Magny-Cours”-based platform.  You would have seen that the power consumption for the two is about the same at each utilization level.  However, there is one area where there was a big difference – at idle.  The “Magny-Cours”-based platform was actually lower!

– AMD’s Fruehe on Opteron 6100’s power consumption

3. Performance in scaled virtualization matters – raw single-threaded performance is secondary. In virtual architectures, clusters of systems must perform as one in an orchestrated ballet of performance and efficiency seeking. For some clusters, dynamic load migration to favour power consumption is a priority – relying on solid power efficiency under high load conditions. For other clusters, workload is spread to maximize performance available to key workloads – relying on solid power efficiency under generally light loads. For many environments, multi-generational hardware will be commonplace and AMD is counting on its wider range of migration compatibility to hold-on to customers that have not yet jumped ship for Intel’s Nehalem-EP/EX.

“We demonstrated Microsoft Hyper-V running on two different servers, one based on a Quad-Core AMD Opteron processor codenamed “Barcelona” (circa 2007) and a brand new “Magny-Cours”-based system. …companies might have problems moving a 2010 VM to a 2007 server without limiting the VM features. (For example, in order to move a virtual machine from an Intel  “Nehalem”-based system to a “Harpertown” [or earlier] platform, the customer must not enable nested paging in the “Nehalem” virtual machine, which can reduce the overall performance of the VM.)”

– AMD’s Fruehe, extolling the virtues of Opteron generational compatibility

SOLORI’s Take: It would appear that Magny-Cours has more under the MCM hood than a pair of Istanbul processors (as previously charged.) To manage better idle performance and constant power performance in spite of a two-to-one core ratio and similar 45nm process, AMD’s process and feature set must include much better power management as well, however, core speed is not one of them. With the standard “Maranello” 6100 series coming in at 1.9, 2.1 and 2.2 GHz with an HE variant at 1.7GHz and SE version running at 2.3GHz, finding parity in an existing cluster of 2.4, 2.6 and 2.8 GHz six-core servers may be difficult. Still, Maranello/G34 CPUs will be at 85, 115 and 140W TDP.

That said, Fruehe has a point on virtualization platform deployment and processor speed: it is not necessary to trim-out an entire farm with top-bin parts – only a small portion of the cluster needs to operate with top-band performance marks. The rest of the market is looking for predictable performance, scalability and power efficiency per thread. While SMT makes a good run at efficiency per thread, it does so at the expense of predictable performance. Here’s hoping that AMD’s C1E (or whatever their power-sipping special sauce will be called) does nothing to interfere with predictable performance…

As we’ve said before, memory capacity and bandwidth (as a function of system power and core/thread capacity) are key factors in a CPU’s viability in a virtualization stack. With 12 DIMM slots per CPU (3-DPC, 4-channel), AMD inherits an enviable position over Intel’s current line-up of 2P solutions by being able to offer 50% more memory per cluster node without resorting to 8GB DIMMs. That said, it’s up to OEM’s to deliver rack server designs that feature 12 DIMM per CPU and not hold-back with only 8 DIMM variants. In the blade and 1/2-size market, cramming 8 DIMM per board (effectively 1-DPC for 2P Magny-Cours) can be a challenge let alone 24 DIMMs! Perhaps we’ll see single-socket blades with 12 DIMMs (12-cores, 48/96GB DDR3) or 2P blades with only one 12 DIMM memory bank (one-hop, NUMA) in the short term.

SOLORI’s 2nd Take: It makes sense that AMD would showcase their leading OEM partners because their success will be determined on what those OEM’s bring to market. With VDI finally poised to make a big market impact, we’d expect to see the first systems delivered with 2-DPC configurations (8 DIMM per CPU, economically 2.5GB/core) which could meet both VDI and HPC segments equally. However, with Window7 gaining momentum, what’s good for HPC might not cut it for long in the VDI segment where expectations of 4-6 VM’s per core at 1-2GB/VM are mounting.

Besides the launch date, what wasn’t said was who these OEM’s are and how many systems they’ll be delivering at launch. Whoever they are, they need to be (1) financially stronger than AMD, (2) in an aggressive marketing position with respect to today’s key growth market (server and desktop virtualization), and (3) willing to put AMD-based products “above the fold” on their marketing and e-commerce initiatives. AMD needs to “represent” in a big way before a tide of new technologies makes them yesterday’s news. We have high hopes that AMD’s recent “perfect” execution streak will continue.

One comment

  1. SemiAccurate reports on “unofficial” pricing of the 8- and 12-core versions of Magny-Cours, ranging from $309 for the 8-core, 80W ACP, 2.0GHz Opteron 6128 to $1,599 for the 12-core, 105W ACP, 2.3GHz Opteron 6176.

    Contrasting this pricing to current “Istanbul” 6-core chips – ranging from $1,514 for the 55W ACP, 2.1GHz 8425HE to $2,149 for the 75W ACP, 2.4GHz 8431 – the 12-core offering looks to be somewhat of a bargain if you’re in the market for 4P replacement (down to 2P or massive-core 4P).

    Economically, system investment should drop by 40% moving from 4P to 2P, and CPU investment in 24-cores would drop from just under $9K to just under $4K – more than 60%. In other words, the threading power of a modern 4P system for roughly 40-50% the cost. This, of course, if you can sacrifice 600-800 MHz off of your top-end.


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