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by Franki

Dell is the 800 pound gorilla in the hardware arena, they have mastered the mass produced, mass marketed PC market for some time now and always seem to show glowing revenue when others are faltering. Could their decision to sell only Intel CPU’s affect that ranking in the future? I rather suspect it will, at least in the server market as Intel have stumbled somewhat with their CPU range and arguably given AMD something of an advantage.

AMD’s Opteron CPU’s are very good performers, and compare very favourably with Intel’s Xeon CPU range in both price and performance. That alone won’t win the race for AMD, but it’s possible that dual core Opterons might make a significant difference. AMD has a couple of things that Intel doesn’t, Hypertransport is far more effective then the bus architecture Intel has used in present and past systems. The integrated memory controller in the Opteron, together with multiple Hypertransport interconnects has enabled the Opteron to leave Xeon in it’s wake for memory intensive applications. When you add in the fact that Opterons where designed for 64bit and multicore from the word go, and that Intel has seemingly been playing catch-up and grafting the new features like 64bit and multi-core to it’s existing line-up you begin to get an idea of how the dual core server processor race is likely to turn out (at least until Intel catch up). Not only that, but dual core Opterons run on the same motherboards that single core Opterons do, usually requiring only a bios update. That gives buyers the ability to buy a cheap single core CPU based system now, and upgrade to dual core by simply replacing the CPU later on (or buy a dual CPU server now, and upgrade to four cores later on). Enterprise cares more about price and performance then it does about marketing. Now that Opteron (and thereby AMD) has gained itself a stable foothold in the server market, if a dual core Opteron system is the same price as a Xeon system, but out performs it significantly, most will end up choosing the Opteron based system. All AMD has to do is make sure that enterprise CTO’s know about their superior performance and pricing.

Dell will be able to compete on price. Because of their massive buying power, they would be getting unrivalled pricing for their base hardware, but can they use pricing to compete against superior performance in the server market? Dell has said many times that they will consider offering AMD based systems if enough people ask, but many in the industry seem to think that is just to get more concessions from Intel. If Dell were to start offering a successful Opteron based line of servers, the current AMD/Intel market share figures would significantly change almost overnight. As it stands now, we have Dell in one corner offering Intel only, in the other corner we have IBM, HP and Sun offering AMD Opteron based systems. HP has already revealed it’s dual core based systems, and we can expect the same from the others in the coming weeks. Intel isn’t even slated to release it’s dual core Xeon’s until Q1 2006 which gives AMD a significant lead time to further penetrate into enterprise server rooms.

It has taken AMD many years of hard work to get past the “Intel inside” mentality that a vast portion of the market once clung to, and they have made great strides in that regard. It remains to be seen just how well the dual core Opterons perform before we know if they will dramatically improve AMD’s performance lead. Based upon what I have read about the respective technology in the past year, I wouldn’t even consider another Intel based system unless there was a serious price difference in favour to Intel, something that going from past history is unlikely to happen any time soon. Hopefully Dual core Opterons will extend that technological lead further. As it stands now, I know what CPU all my new machines will be based on.

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