This week AMD finally released their AMD 6200 and 4200 series CPUs. These are the long-awaited server-oriented Interlagos and Valencia CPUs, based on their new “Bulldozer” core, offering up to 16 x86 cores in a single socket. The announcement was targeted at (drum roll, one guess per customer only) … “The Cloud.” AMD appears to be positioning its new architectures as the platform of choice for cloud-oriented workloads, focusing on highly threaded throughput oriented benchmarks that take full advantage of its high core count and unique floating point architecture, along with what look like excellent throughput per Watt metrics.

At the same time it is pushing the now seemingly mandatory “cloud” message, AMD is not ignoring the meat-and-potatoes enterprise workloads that have been the mainstay of server CPUs sales –virtualization, database, and HPC, where the combination of many cores, excellent memory bandwidth and large memory configurations should yield excellent results. In its competitive comparisons, AMD targets Intel’s 5640 CPU, which it claims represents Intel’s most widely used Xeon CPU, and shows very favorable comparisons in regards to performance, price and power consumption. Among the features that AMD cites as contributing to these results are:

  • Advanced power and thermal management, including the ability to power off inactive cores contributing to an idle power of less than 4.4W per core. Interlagos offers a unique capability called TDP, which allows I&O groups to set the total power threshold of the CPU in 1W increments to allow fine-grained tailoring of power in the server racks.
  • Turbo CORE, which allows boosting the clock speed of cores by up to 1 GHz for half the cores or 500 MHz for all the cores, depending on workload.
  • Shared FPU, which reduces the power consumption by not burdening each core with a full FPU. For the majority of workloads this was probably the right choice, although it could backfire for a few FP-intensive workloads. As an added bonus the FPU can switch between a dual-issue 128 bit and single-issue 256-bit pipeline, and has additional complex match instructions beyond the SSE, AVX and AESNI instruction sets it shares with Intel.
  • High-speed and low-latency memory controllers

Our net takeaway is that this newest generation of AMD CPUs delivers on the expectations set over the last two years, and on top of the rollout of the AMD Fusion (Bobcat core) CPUs for laptop/desktops, has given AMD a strengthened position against Intel, and there is a pretty good chance AMD could regain some of its lost market share in servers from Intel. The elephant in the room, of course, is the upcoming introduction of Intel’s Sandy Bridge-based server CPUs, widely believed to be coming in about February 2012. Against these new Intel CPUs, with their improved performance and emphasis on lower power, AMD’s products may not look so shiny, but they should still be competitive.

Once again, it's looking like the next couple of years will be a very good time to be buying servers, with two very qualified and highly competitive vendor platforms to play off against each other.