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AMD plots return to the data center with Epyc

Andy Patrizio | May 26, 2017
The chip-maker’s Naples platform has the speeds and feeds to beat Intel. Will it make a difference?

Editor's note: This story, originally published on May 16, 2017, was updated because AMD changed the name of the processor from Naples to Epyc. Changes appear throughout.

 
There aren't many second acts in technology, let alone a third. But that isn't stopping AMD.

In the early part of the century, AMD shook up the computing world when it introduced three major changes to the x86 CPU: multi-core CPUs64-bit extensions, and moving the memory controller onto the CPU instead of a separate front-side bus.

As a result, the company suddenly became very competitive with Intel and began taking market share. Nowhere was that more obvious than in servers, where the company introduced its first server product, called Opteron.

Quickly AMD soared to 20 percent market share on the server. Then it stumbled with the "Barcelona" processor in 2007, where it tried to do too much at once, and a reinvigorated Intel got its act together. Today, Opteron has less than 1 percent market share, according to Mercury Research's Dean McCarron.

AMD wandered in the wilderness for a long time with sub-par processors, but a new core design called Zen has reawakened interest in the company. On the desktop, Zen-based CPUs are equal to or out performing top of the line Intel chips that cost three times as much.

For the server, AMD has a new platform called Epyc that it hopes will revive interest in its server products. Naples is a beast of a platform aimed squarely at Intel's Broadwell-EP generation of Xeon E5 V4 processors.

The Epyc CPUs have 32 cores, capable of 64 simultaneous threads, with eight memory channels supporting up to 2TB of 2400MHz RAM and 128 PCIe 3.0 lanes per CPU. By comparison, the Xeon E5 has 22 cores and 44 threads, four memory channels, and a maximum of 1.5TB of 1866Mhz RAM. But figure on that being bumped up in the next generation of Xeons, because Intel does not sit still.

Forrest Norrod, senior vice president and general manager of the enterprise, embedded and semi-custom business unit at AMD, said he is not expecting 30 percent market share overnight but they are looking to re-enter the server market with a "highly differentiated product."

"Opteron is gone. But I think we got the cred, we've been there before, we understand what it takes to build high performance processors, we understand cloud customers. And I think there is an enormous demand for a competitive alternative to Intel. A lot of the interest in ARM and [IBM] Power has been fueled by AMD's failure to deliver a high performance alternative and not have a competitive alternative," he says. 

 

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