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2003 - AMD Opteron Revolutionizes Server Market

Even though Advanced Micro Devices attempted to enter the market of servers with its Athlon MP microprocessors, the success was less than moderate. While some institutions did adopt the platform, the majority unsurprisingly preferred proven platform based on Xeon-series chips from Intel. But Opteron managed to convince even the largest makers of servers that AMD can not only design high desktop processors, but also speedy and reliable chips for multi-socket servers.

After AMD Athlon central processing unit became an undisputable hit of the desktop CPU market, every observer on the planet was expecting AMD's x86-64 micro-architecture, which promised 64-bit capability amid native 32-bit execution, integrated memory controller, new pipeline design, new processor system bus and many other innovations. Without doubts, the new processors were the most innovative chips ever built by AMD and represented an even bigger technology leap than the original Athlon was compared to the K6.

AMD demonstrated systems with the Opteron central processing units (CPUs) code-named SledgeHammer at the Computex 2002 trade-show in June, 2002, (AMD originally promised to "ship" the chips in 2002) and promised to start commercial shipments already in Q4 2002. However, the chips needed redesign and the company delayed them towards Q2 2003 sometime in October or early November of 2002. The following five months were a disaster for AMD: its losses were massive and sales could not improve as Intel managed to finally clock its Netburst-based processors at speeds where they left competitors from AMD massively behind.

But on the 22nd of April, 2003, the Sunnyvale, California-based chip company finally introduced its long-awaited Opteron processor. Despite of a number of pretty loud names, who supported the Opteron at launch, there was one, which was really important: IBM, who announced plans to use AMD Opteron inside its servers designed for high-performance-computing (HPC) applications. Later on AMD gained all the other leading server makers as partners, including HP, Dell and many more. But that day it was a triumph for AMD: the most trustworthy server maker adopted the company's newest chip.

"AMD first began to think about the necessity of server x86 processor architecture that would create a scalable multiprocessor solutions. At that time Intel did try to make high-end multiprocessor servers rely on its Itanium. AMD simply offered what was lacked on the market:  a 32-bit and 64-but CPU, which could be easily and without compromising performance combined into multi-socket configurations and which allowed the use of large amounts of RAM," explained Ilya Gavrichenkov of X-bit labs.

The Opteron processor revolutionized the market of servers and multi-socket servers in many ways:

  • Software developers and server customers could migrate to 64-bit servers with a lot of memory while retaining compatibility with existing software.
  • Scalability of servers with integrated memory controller and point-to-point HyperTransport interconnection vastly improved performance and scalability of multi-socket servers.
  • Intel ceased to be the only supplier of mainstream x86 server technology and had to respond.
  • Server makers finally recognized AMD. Companies who relied strictly on Intel had to reconsider their business models as a lot of customers, particularly in the HPC space, demanded Opteron.

It took AMD years to gain a significant share on the server market. Moreover, starting from 2007 the company's server market share has been gradually declining. At present it is just about 6.3%. Still, the original Opteron introduced in 2003 won its war: AMD is now a visible name on the market of servers.

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