Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, March 23, 2023

AMD Etches “Warsaw” Opterons For Financial Services Friends 

AMD is taking a trip down the Opteron 6300 lane one last time with the launch of the "Warsaw" variants of its high-end server processors.

The company has been pretty vague about what would be in store with this update to this family of Opteron chips, which are aimed at two-socket and four-socket servers. Rather than refresh the Opteron 6300 server chips with a new and smaller transistor etching process from its fab partner, GlobalFoundries, AMD has instead done a deep sort in its Opteron bins to pull out two specific variations that financial services and cloud customers want to use in conjunction with the "Roadrunner" system board that AMD developed with their input through the Open Compute Project.

"The top bin processor doesn't cause the twinkle in the eye that it used to," Matt Kimball, senior product marketing manager for the server business unit, explains to EnterpriseTech. "These customers are looking for the best value for the dollar, and they also want increased power efficiency."

The customers in question who drove the creation of the Roadrunner system board include Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, and Goldman Sachs, who are all participants in the Open Compute Project, which was launched nearly three years ago by Facebook to open source server, storage, and datacenter designs. Facebook and Rackspace Hosting also gave input on the design. The feeds and speeds of the Warsaw variants of the Opteron 6300 chips were based on input from Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, and Rackspace. (None of these companies have yet admitted to using systems based on the Roadrunner motherboards in their systems or the new Warsaw parts.)

The two new Opteron 6300 chips are made using the 32 nanometer process from GlobalFoundries, the same one that was used to etch the other Opteron 6300s that came out in November 2012. The Opteron 6300s plug into the same G34 sockets as the prior generation of Opteron 6200 chips, which came out a year earlier. The Opteron 6300s have the "Piledriver" core, which offers improved branch prediction, four new instructions, L2 cache efficiency improvements, a bunch of other nips and tucks; they also ran, SKU for SKU, at a slightly faster clock speeds of 200 MHz to 300 MHz.

With the two Warsaw chips, customers in the financial services and cloud businesses asked AMD to take down the clock speed a little, take down the heat dissipation a lot, and drop the price as well. And, as you can see in the table below, that is precisely what AMD did:


For these customers, taking down the clock speed by a few hundred megahertz – or back to where the Opteron 6200s were, more or less – is not a big deal for the distributed workloads that they run. But taking down the overall system cost by 10 to 15 percent is. (That figure includes lower processor costs as well as lower electricity usage and cooling costs.)


Based on initial tests on integer workloads, Kimball says that the sixteen-core Opteron 6370P running at 2 GHz will do about 11.4 percent less work than the sixteen-core Opteron 6376 running at 2.3 GHz. But the Opteron 6370P has a thermal design point that is 13.9 percent lower at peak usage of all of the circuits on the chip, and the gap is even higher for real-world workloads that never push all the transistors at once. The price per chip is 14.9 percent lower, falling faster than the performance difference. A similar gap will exist between the new twelve-core Opteron 6338P and the existing twelve-core Opteron 6344, but integer benchmarks were not available at press time.

The Roadrunner system board can take Opteron 6200 or 6300 series processors and is based on AMD's own SR5670/SP5100 chipset. The two-socket board has a dozen memory sticks per socket and six SATA connectors for linking out to disk and flash drives; it also has four PCI-Express 2.0 slots (two x16 and two x8) for bandwidth-hungry peripheral cards and a mini-mezzanine slot that implements a PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slot for snapping in Ethernet or InfiniBand ports.

Normally, a motherboard has variations in memory and peripheral slots to target different workloads, but the idea with the Roadrunner system board was to have one dense and cheap board aim at three different workloads with different memory speeds and capacities, peripheral configurations, and server form factors. Like so:


Penguin Computing and Avnet, two system integrators who are active in the Open Compute Project and who are peddling machines, are selling systems based on the new Warsaw Opteron chips. So are server makers Supermicro and Sugon. Other server makers, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and IBM could certainly follow suit, since they have machines that will take the new processors.

What is not clear is if the Warsaw Opterons represent the end of the line for the so-called "legacy Opteron" processors. AMD's roadmap showed the Warsaw update coming this year, and did not go beyond that. AMD is working on a follow-on to the quad-core "Kyoto" Opteron X processor, called "Berlin," which will marry its "Steamroller" core to its Graphics Core Next (GCN) graphics chip on the same die. These Berlin chips are due in the second quarter of this year. In the fourth quarter, AMD plans to have its eight-core ARM processor, code-named "Seattle," out the door, and this will carry an Opteron brand as well. But it will obviously not be software compatible with the Opteron 6300s. Both the Berlin and Seattle parts are etched by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp using its 28 nanometer processes – the same ones that are used for making other graphics cards and processors these days for the likes of AMD, Oracle, AppliedMicro, and others.

AMD has given no hints that it plans to update the low-end Opteron 3300 processors for single-socket microprocessors or the Opteron 4300s for one-socket and two-socket rack servers. None of this means there is not going to be an Opteron 3400, 4400, or 6400 update using the Steamroller cores, but the fact that AMD is not talking about a broader update to the legacy Opterons yet would seem to indicate that the company will be focusing on Berlin and Seattle and taking the fight to different parts of the market against archrival Intel.

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