Introducing Opteron - Don't Worry, the Athlon still lives

While everyone was looking for a new name for the forthcoming Hammer line of processors, AMD did what we all should have expected them to do and today announced a new brand for their workstation/server microprocessors.

As we've already announced in the past, the desktop version of AMD's Hammer core will continue to use a derivative of the Athlon name. This is akin to the Thunderbird core using the name Athlon while the Palomino core was introduced with the Athlon XP moniker. There have been many suggestions as to what the Hammer based Athlon processor should be called but you can bet it won't just be Athlon XP. Rumors such as Athlon 64 have been flying around but even AMD isn't ready to formalize a name for the highly anticipated processor due out later this year.

One of the big announcements today is the introduction of an entirely new brand for all multiprocessor capable Hammer based parts. The name is Opteron and although it somewhat reminds us of the pain we went through when the Duron was announced, it's here to stay. The idea behind Opteron is to build off of the Latin root optimus meaning best or if you play with the translation a bit you get optimal unit or flagship. Indeed this is AMD's goal for the server/workstation processor as the Hammer was originally designed as a server/workstation part and later watered down for the desktop and mobile markets. This is a departure from the Athlon (K7) processor which was first designed as a mainstream desktop part with mobile, workstation and server parts later spun off from it.

What will it take for a processor to be called an Opteron? According to AMD, the main distinction will be that any Hammer based processor that is DP or MP capable will be branded as an Opteron. So we'll have ClawHammer based Opterons as well as SledgeHammer based Opteron processors. AMD's official comment on whether a desktop ClawHammer based Athlon would differ architecturally from a ClawHammer based Opteron was the usual spin: the dual processor ClawHammer (Opteron) will be multiprocessing capable while the Athlon version will not. This could mean anything from the only difference being validation procedures to AMD actually limiting the next-gen Athlon to uniprocessor operation only; we simply don't know at this time.

As far as architectural details of the Opteron, we've already given a very extensive look at the Hammer architecture in general which you can read about here (and you can see the first public demo here). It's also interesting to point out that AMD has said the maximum L2 cache size for the Opteron processor will be 1MB. This is one of the benefits of having such a high-speed memory controller, it is the closest you can get to having a very large L3 cache without wasting expensive die space but it's still interesting to see such a cap placed on the server parts this early in the game.

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