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Review: AMD Opteron

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 23 September 2003, 00:00


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Tuesday the 22nd of April, 2003. D-Day for AMD, do or die, make or break, boom or bust. The 22nd was the official launch day for one of the most anticipated processor launches in the short history of computing. AMD launched the Opteron to rapturous industry applause and support, IBM were present at the New York launch event and when IBM turn up to your press events to show massive support, you know you're on to a probable winner.

With the launch of the consumer version of AMD's new twist in the x86 tale just days away, the timing is just right for my look at x86-64 in the server space.

It's not often that we make the heady leap in to the enterprise arena at HEXUS, we're resolutely consumer commentators for the most part. But we tested the water with an article on enterprise chipsets earlier this year and the response was good enough for us to try our hand at something new.

Opteron is that new thing.

I'll cover it in much more detail on forthcoming pages, but in essence Opteron is the server version of AMD's new 64-bit based extension to the venerable x86 ISA (instruction set architecture). With the current x86 implementation being resolutely 32-bit (with 36-bit process address space and memory addressing 'hacks' in current CPU's), it was only a matter of time before the move to 64-bit enterprise computing became mainstream.

It's been around for years with CPU's like the Power4, SPARC and Alpha, from enterprise computing heavyweights like IBM and Sun Microsystems, but none of those chips are x86 designs. Even Intel broke free from x86 with its own 64-bit ISA, IA-64. With the prices of systems based around alternative 64-bit processors running from the very expensive to the obscenely expensive, coupled with the fact that they can't run x86 code, it looked like 64-bit x86 in the enterprise was never going to happen.

Now it's not obvious to the casual observer why that matters. Let's take a look at what an ISA is, so we can try and answer that.