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AMD Opterons put Sun SPARC, Intel Itanium on horns of dilemma

And that hurts
Sun Sep 14 2003, 11:15
IF OR WHEN Sun Microsystems decides to go for a dual Opteron system as part of its product line-up, it could find itself feeling some pain, according to an analyst at iSuppli.

And the pain will be shared between Sun and Intel because the Itanium is perceived as something of a blunt instrument, according to resellers of dual systems.

Mat Wilkins, a senior analyst at iSuppli, told the INQUIRER that customers at Sun Microsystems may find that Opteron systems compare very favourably with UltraSPARC systems for both price and performance, and that's a clear danger for the firm. Although any Opterons that Sun might sell will be at the entry server level, Wilkins said that AMD's Opteron "is not a bad peformer and a lot cheaper than Ultra SPARC kit".

But an important element in how well Opterons do is whether ISVs writing or who have written applications for Solaris X86 decide to port those for Opterons. They, he said, may well be waiting to see the level of acceptance of AMD's microprocessor.

However, according to a North American reseller of server systems, the Opteron is selling better than sales of Xeon and Athlon MP chips put together.

A representative at a major North American reseller of these type of systems told the INQUIRER: "We are also starting to see a demand for quad Opterons, even at a high price point".

He said that's because of the relatively inexpensive nature of the CPUs and the fact that they do multi-way more efficiently than others.

But, he added, it's not necessarily wise to compare the AMD Opteron with the Intel Itanium microprocessor.

"Itanium has had years for people to sample and evaluate. Few have bought more," he claimed. "These same people now are trying Opteron. At first they are careful, as the results with Itanium and Alpha yielded minimal gains at very high cost".

He says, however, that the risk in adopting the Opterons is "much smaller", because it is compatible with the 32-bit code base, while the costs are also comparable to 32-bit SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) machines.

"Even if it [an Opteron systems] ends up being a 32 bit engine, with none of the new features used, it is still no worse than a comparably priced Xeon or Athlon MP system," he said.

No doubt these questions will be hammered out during the coming fortnight. Intel's Developer Forum starts in San Jose on Tuesday, AMD is briefing selected hacks during the middle of IDF, as has become traditional, while the smaller X86 player will have its Athlon 64 jamboree just over a week from now. µ


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