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Intel Corporation is expected to unleash details regarding its next-generation server and desktop x86 processors with 64-bit capabilities sometimes this week, but AMD has just performed an action to keep eyes of system builders on its Opteron processors – it slashed the prices of its high-end 64-bit server CPUs.

The price reduction mainly concerns AMD’s central processing units for 4/8-way servers that are not really widely distributed these days. Extremely affordable processors for high-end systems will surely catch an eye of server makers, but since there are practically no finalized and approved designs for 4-way and 8-way machines, AMD will hardly sell a lot of Opteron 800 series chips in the first quarter, but is likely to find itself in a more favorable position in Q2 and Q3, when certified references for 4P servers and maybe even workstations are likely to appear.

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Today AMD cut down prices of Opteron 800 series processors by around 50% – an unprecedented move no one would expect from a server CPU maker. Pricing of AMD Opteron 200 series is aligned with Intel Xeon product line, while the costs of Opteron 100 series remained on the previous level.

AMD also seems to be phasing out its 32-bit AMD Athlon MP processors for 2-way servers and workstations. The CPUs are very inexpensive now and there are only 3 flavours available – a distinct sign that soon there will be no Athlon MP chips at all.

It may be a pure coincidence, but price slashes of Advanced Micro Devices are made on the same week, when its arch-rival Intel Corporation is expected to uncover details of its x86 CPUs with 64-bit capabilities as well as showcase new soon-to-be released Xeon “Nocona” and Xeon MP microprocessors aimed at the same market space as Opterons.

During Inter Developer Forum Spring 2004 in San Francisco’s Moscone Center the world’s largest chipmaker is anticipated to discuss its Clackamas Technology (CT), a technology believed to be previously known under Yamhill name and to be a sort of 64-bit enhancement to x86 architecture. It is not clear which enhancements might been made to Intel’s 32-bit microprocessors, but the most notable one is ability to address more than 4GB of random access memory by CPUs like Xeon or Pentium. In case rumours about Clackamas Technology materialize, there will be a rival for AMD Opteron – an Intel’s chip that will handle 32-bit and 64-bit processing with no performance drops because of emulation. The main question analysts ask now is when such chips will be available from Intel.

In fact, Intel’s new 64-bit extensions are very likely to appear in microprocessors the Santa Clara, California-based company calls Potomac that are due next year. This effectively means that Intel may not have any new processor cores for its 32-bit Xeon MP lineup in 2004. As a result, Intel will have to bump up the speed of its existing Xeon MP “Gallatin” processors to keep on performance improvements of its IA32 chips for 4/8-way platforms. Since there is not a lot of 64-bit software right now, Intel is not very likely to suffer from downturns in demand for its IA32 MP products.

Already this quarter the Santa Clara, California-based semiconductor manufacturer will roll-out the Xeon MP processor with 4MB of L3 cache clocked at 3.0GHz. Moreover, in order to strengthen the overall family, the company is rumored to add 2.70GHz and 2.20GHz Xeon MP chips into the lineup. The Xeon MP 3.0GHz 4M part – presumably based on the Gallatin 4M core – will be Intel’s top IA32 offering for 4P/8P platforms quoted at $3692. The 2.20GHz and 2.70GHz models will complement existing Xeon MP processors at 2.80GHz and 2.0GHz with 2MB L3 caches. The new parts will be priced at $1177 and $1980 respectively. All new Xeon MP processors are drop-in compatible with existing 4P/8P IA32 infrastructure, such as applications based on ServerWorks GC-HE, GC-LE chipsets, using 400MHz Quad Pumped Bus.

Some believe that Intel’s 90nm Xeon chips will also handle 64-bit operation, though, this is pretty improbable information. The new generation Xeon 1M “Nocona” processors expected to ship in Q2 2004 will still be very different compared to current Xeon 1M CPUs from micro architectural points of view. Firstly, Nocona’s L1 cache is two times larger compared to the current Xeon DP processors’ and equals to 16KB. Secondly, Nocona includes 16K uOps Trace Cache, a substantial improvement over current 12K uOps. Thirdly, 90nm DP products will make use of Prescott’s new, more efficient branch prediction mechanism. Fourthly, the new Xeon 1M microprocessors will feature SSE3 technology. Finally, the new Intel Xeon 1M “Nocona” will boast with enhanced efficiency of the Hyper-Threading technology. Additionally, all Nocona Xeon 1M chips will have 800MHz Quad Pumped Bus – probably the major factor to improve Xeon performance, as current 2P Intel’s chips feature 533MHz processor system bus. All-in-all, the new processors for 2-way servers and workstations will be quite substantially different than current Xeon 1M products at the same speed bins.

Intel and AMD did not comment on the story.


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