August 26, 2010, 11:45 AM — Advanced Micro Devices is considering the implementation of its upcoming low-power netbook chips based on the new Bobcat architecture in low-end servers, the company said this week.
"We're definitely in the process of examining this as a design point," said Donald Newell, AMD's new server chief technology officer, in an interview. "It would be foolish not to."
AMD will start shipping its first low-power chips based on the Bobcat architecture for devices like netbooks and ultraportable laptops later this year. The chips, code-named Ontario, combine a central processing unit and graphics processing unit into one piece of silicon.
AMD has not yet offered low-power chips as part of its server offerings, and Ontario will be AMD's most advanced x86 low-power chip. Netbook processors like Intel's Atom processor and Via's Nano processor are already being used in low-end servers designed for cloud computing.
Newell was appointed the company's server chief technology on Monday, and investigating the possible use of low-power chips in servers is part of his job to map out AMD's future server offerings. Beyond chip level improvement, he is also looking at memory and networking improvements that could help to improve server performance. Newell formerly was an engineer at Intel, where he worked on the development of system-on-chip (SoC) and data-center technologies.
There is a growing interest in building servers with low-power chips, and the experimentation is good, Newell said. Power efficiency is a big part of server ownership as companies are looking to cut costs, and low-power chips can be useful for certain workloads, Newell said.
But before Bobcat processors are offered in servers, the company needs to analyze data like power-versus-performance benefits for specific tasks, including some that are not compute or time sensitive.
"There's only a few papers ... and there's a lot more data to collect," Newell said. "It really depends on a number of factors ... to whether or not that's a good design point."
A collection of low-power processors may provide better performance-per-watt compared to the faster server chips, Newell said. But traditional server chips are more responsive and reliable, and better at running more demanding workloads.
"There's a certain amount of computation to be done, and a certain amount of time for it to be done," Newell said. "The large cores will get more work done in a single amount of time ... and get you a better answer."
For example, figuring out an answer to search queries is better done in server subsystems using traditional server processors than netbook chips, Newell said.
However, until all the data is collected and vetted, the company's server strategy will continue to revolve around its Opteron line of server processors.