AMD working to improve Opteron performance

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) unveiled a prototype four-way server using its 64-bit Opteron microprocessor Monday, amid questions surrounding the chip's current performance levels.

Opteron is the brand name for the server and workstation version of the Sunnyvale, California, company's family of 64-bit processors due to be launched early next year, its answer to Intel Corp.'s Itanium chip.

AMD used the opening day of the Computex Taipei 2002 show, Asia's biggest electronics exhibition, to take the wraps off the prototype four-way server running a 64-bit version of SuSE Linux AG's Linux operating system. AMD officials, however, declined to share any performance data from the demonstration and said there is still work to do to get the prototype system up to speed.

"We're in the early processes right now of tuning the system," said Richard Heye, vice president of platform engineering and infrastructure during a press conference Monday. "The systems today have lots of knobs, lots of dials, it's gonna take a while to get these things to really perform well."

Heye added that the work which remains to be done involves software only and AMD is not anticipating any changes to the hardware side of the chip. As an example of the ongoing work, Heye said the company just managed a 17-percent increase in performance by changing two bits of data in the system BIOS (basic input output system).

The Opteron's performance first came into question last week when a draft invitation to the company's Computex event was inadvertently sent to IDG News Service by AMD's PR company in Taipei. "The demos we're currently showing are anything but high-performance. They're pretty low-performance right now, and we don't want to invite questions about just how fast they're running," read one unattributed comment contained in the draft invitation.

Despite what may be relatively low performance at this stage in Opteron's development, one Taiwanese chipset maker believes the processor's x86-64 architecture shows promise, despite having to rely heavily on simulation data to develop its Opteron chipset.

"We believe this kind of architecture is quite good for the next two to three years," said Alex Wu, director of integrated products at Taiwanese chipset maker Silicon Integrated Systems Corp.

With more than six months left until Opteron's launch, AMD has time to continue tweaking the processor's performance. The Opteron is not due on the market until the first quarter of 2003. Beyond the four-way demonstration, the company is looking to running up to eight of the processors together.

"This demonstration is the next step in AMD's enterprise plan to provide one to two processor workgroup solutions, two to four processor departmental solutions, and four to eight (processor) enterprise-class workloads," said Mark Bode, division marketing manager of AMD's Athlon processors.

(Sumner Lemon, in Taipei, contributed to this story.)

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