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AMD working on extra-low-power chip

Advance Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) is adding a new, low-power Opteron processor to its Shanghai line roadmap and it plans to release the chip in the second quarter of the year.

AMD said the need for lower-power chips is being driven, in part, by the rise of computing cloud centers, the massive data centers being built by the likes of Microsoft and Google to deliver cloud services.

AMD isn't saying, just yet, how much it can cut power usage in the upcoming 45nm, quad-core chip line below the power used by its current low-power chip, a 55-watt processor released today. AMD revealed its plans for the fourth chip as part of the release of two new processors.

In November, AMD released the first in its line of 45nm, quad-core Opterons, a 75-watt version with speeds of up to 2.7GHz that makes up the bulk of sales in the Shanghai line.

Today, it followed that processor with two more: A 105-watt, 2.8GHz chip designed for high performance and large database users, and the 55-watt version, which offers speeds of up to 2.3GHz. That latter processor may appeal to cloud-centric facilities and large hosting data centers.

These chips succeed similar offerings in the 65nm Barcelona line of processors.

The decision to add the fourth chip to the line follows AMD's announcement last fall that Microsoft would use its Opteron chip for its cloud computing initiative, the company's Windows Azure Compute Service.

AMD isn't alone in looking to diversify its chip line to address escalating heating and cooling problems in data centers. Rival Intel, for instance, last year released a 50-watt Xeon chip.

In total, AMD is releasing seven chips with varying capabilities and prices; two in the 105-watt line priced at $1,165 and $2,649, and seven in the 55-watt line with speeds ranging from 2.1GHz to 2.3GHz. Prices for the 55-watt chips range from $316 to $1,514.

AMD said the new chips are available immediately on servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Rackable Systems Inc. Servers using these chips will be available from other vendors this quarter, including Dell Inc., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc.

At one time, a low-power chip with lower clock speeds would have gotten mostly niche adoption. But this niche is growing. Cloud computing is really a high-growth segment, said Steve Demski, a senior product manager at AMD. As a result, the chip maker is expecting demand for low-power chips to increase with the rise of cloud computing as a platform.

Lower power, combined with a virtualization-optimized processor, fits cloud-computing environments looking to save as much on energy consumption as possible, said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif.

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