If I was a flower growing wild and free
All I'd want is you to be my sweet honey bee.
And if I was a tree growing tall and green
All I'd want is you to shade me and be my leaves.
-- From All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar
Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) just released an impressive array of new chips, tuned to a variety of special needs. Will they be enough to overcome Intel's (Nasdaq: INTC ) high-performing Nehalem processors?
The new Opteron EE product line -- EE stands for "Extremely Efficient" -- caters to tightly packed data center environments where low power draws matter more than straight-up high performance. The EE series will run as fast as a standard Opteron chip, but within a 40-watt power envelope. The previously most efficient Opteron would draw up to 55 watts of power while doing the same work, and a standard model needs up to 75 watts.
These hefty processor-level improvements translate to about 13% lower power for a whole, power-optimized system. That makes the product very attractive to cloud computing shops and other dense environments. Sometimes, more processors per square foot of data center and per megawatt-hour of electric power feeds yield better returns on investment than higher performers with heavy power needs.
The EE won't beat Nehalem in most head-to-head benchmarks, but as you can see, that's not the point. Give Intel the single-processor absolute performance crown for a while -- and focus on taking market share in the massive-multiprocessor arena. I expect to see blade servers built around these chips by Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , and Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA ) -- or Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) , as that company might be known in the near future.
Perhaps the best feature of the Opteron EE is that it should be a full-featured drop-in replacement for any other Opteron chip. These puppies are sorted out from the rest as part of the manufacturing and testing process -- some chips can run at higher clock speeds, while others draw less power at a certain speed. This lineup is the byproduct of high-quality manufacturing.
No word on the street price yet, but the not-quite-as-impressive Opteron HE product line sells for nearly twice the price of a non-HE chip at the same speed. I'd call this a high-margin return on a relatively low-cost investment, and there's a clearly defined market for these low-power chips.
If I were an IT director with densely packed server racks, I'd want a few of these beauties -- even if I were also buying Nehalem servers for my high-performance needs. AMD is back in the data center game for real. Now, let's see if it can parlay that into stronger margins and actual profits. Stranger things have happened.