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September 21, 2009

AMD Goes Native with New Server Chipsets

by John West

AMD has launched its Fiorano server platform, consisting of chipsets that, for the first time, use only company-branded silicon. The three chipsets announced this week are aimed to serve a range of market segments.

Up until now if you cracked open the hood of your favorite six-core AMD server you’d find the familiar logo on the processor, but not on the chips that glue the processor to the rest of the I/O cards, memory, and so forth. Instead, you’d have found Broadcom or NVIDIA silicon doing duty in that role. Now, AMD hopes you’ll be spotting its own silicon in your servers courtesy of the engineering team from ATI, which AMD acquired in 2006.

Today the company announced three different northbridge chipsets, the SR5650, SR5670, and the SR5690, which are to be paired with the SP5100 southbridge. All three northbridge versions are aimed at Socket F and support HypterTransport 3, and PCI Express 2.0 (up to 42 lanes according to one report but we are still waiting for confirmation from AMD), among other features.

These chips will also figure in support for next year’s Magny-Cours DDR3-based AMD chips which use Socket G34 and will come in 8 and 12 core variants. The chipset is available for Original Device Manfacturers like Tyan and Supermicro (both of which are announcing configurations that use the new chipsets), but the big OEMs like HP, IBM, and others are focusing their efforts on AMD’s 2010 lineup (expected in the first quarter) according to Gina Longoria, senior product manager for server workstations with AMD.

Unhelpfully for a family of server chipsets, AMD isn’t yet talking specifics on costs or speeds and feeds. In fact, the variety of things that AMD isn’t talking about with this release (cost specifics, speeds and feeds, OEM partners) suggests a launch hurried along to preempt any IDF news.

What we do know, however, are some qualitative statements about the three configurations, which are each aimed at different segments of the server space. The SR5650 is designed for lower power configurations paired with the EE and HE variants, and, in fact, is being used in Tyan’s S8208 server featuring AMD’s ultra lower Opteron variant, the EE at 40W. The S8208 isn’t expected to be available until November.

The SR5670 is the middle-of-the-road chipset, designed for a balance of performance and power efficiency that AMD hopes will help it appeal to the HPC crowd. AMD’s Longoria says that this chipset was chosen as part of the new supercomputer headed for PRACE, where the PCI Express 2.0 features will allow that cluster to support data communications over QDR InfiniBand. The cluster is being built from quad-socket Supermicro blades (this puts 24 cores on a blade). PRACE is one of the first customers for the chipset and, according to Longoria, the system being built now will feature 4,320 cores.

OTOY, the startup that is developing technology it hopes will enable real-time, high quality graphics to be streamed over the Web to your browser, is building with the high end of just about everything AMD makes. They are building a 240 processor (1,440 Istanbul cores) cluster with 480 FireStream graphics cards (4 per node, 2 per CPU). The cluster will be built from Supermicro 2P blades, using the SR5690 high end chipset. The 5690 can scale up to 8 sockets on a board, but I don’t see that configuration being practical in anything but custom builds for highly-targeted customers.

Both Tyan and Supermicro have products using the new chipsets that will come available starting this month, and proceeding over the next two months. A look at Tyan’s roadmap shows 3 motherboards (and 3 1U servers as well) that will launch between now and November. An MEB form factor (the S8212) is expected in September for “dense infrastructure” deployments; an ATX form factor (the S8005) in October; and the S8208 we’ve already talked about in November.

Supermicro has three motherboards coming out over the next two months: a new EATX in each of September and October, and an SWTX form factor in October aimed at HPC (which is odd because I thought that Supermicro was moving away from SWTX). According to AMD, Supermicro is also launching the SBA-7141i-T blade in September and the 1U AS-1041A-2TF server in October, both of which are also aimed at HPC.

Although AMD isn’t talking about costs, they did characterize the relative costs of the three chipsets. Not surprisingly, pricing parallels the expected performance of the three models with the low end SR5650 costing the least, and the high end 5690 topping out the price sheet.