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AMD's new Opterons: more bandwidth, less power
AMD launched its new line of Opterons without tremendous fanfare, perhaps because the revisions to the Opteron are mostly about the platform, with no major changes to the processor microarchitecture. These Opterons are still dual-core processors manufactured on a 90nm process at AMD's Dresden, Germany fab, with the same 1MB of L2 cache per core as prior models. They still use HyperTransport to communicate with the rest of the system, and the basic Opteron system topology is intact.

Quite visibly, though, these Opterons are packaged differently, in order to fit into Socket F, a new CPU socket with 1207 pins in a land grid array-style layout, much like the socket for Xeons. Gone are the pins protruding from the underside of the CPU, replaced by pins that stick up from inside the socket itself. Here's a quick look at a new Opteron and the Socket F retention mechanism.

Along with this new socket comes support for DDR2 memory, which offers lower power consumption and higher clock frequencies than DDR memory. Socket F Opterons support two channels of DDR2 memory at speeds up to 667MHz. These higher memory clock speeds should allow for additional bandwidth, but given what we've seen from the desktop variant of this technology, the Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2, one shouldn't expect dramatic performance gains out of the move to DDR2. The more important news here is probably the lower platform power consumption.

Socket F's higher pin count isn't just for DDR2 memory support, though. AMD says today's Socket F systems will be upgradeable to quad-core Opterons when those products arrive in mid-2007. The new-look Opterons also incorporate support for AMD-V virtualization technology, a small set of instructions and other provisions intended to help facilitate machine virtualization in software packages like VMware and Xen. The memory controller in Socket F Opterons is even virtualization-aware and can assist in partitioning off memory that belongs to different virtual machines to keep data more secure.

The guts of our Opteron test system

These changes to the Opteron lineup bring with them a new set of model numbers based on a four-digit numbering scheme. (Does it get any more exciting than that? I think not.) The Opteron 8200 series takes over for the 800 series in four- and eight-way servers, while Opteron 2200 series supplants the 200 series in dual-socket systems. (The Opteron 1200 series for low-end workstations is a different animal, aimed at the same Socket AM2 infrastructure as the Athlon 64, not Socket F.) We've tested the Opteron 2218, a 2.6GHz part, but AMD offers a range of models with different clock speeds, down to the 2210 at 1.8GHz.

AMD rates the "regular" Socket F Opterons for a maximum CPU power and thermal envelope of 95W. However, the company is also offering two special variants with different power envelopes. The low-power Opteron HE models run at 2.0 to 2.4GHz and carry a 68W thermal design power (TDP), while the high-performance Opteron SE variants have a 120W TDP. Currently, the only Opteron SEs available run at 2.8GHz, a clock frequency regular 95W Opterons have not yet reached.