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AMD keeps pressure on Intel with more six-headed server chips

Advanced Micro Devices is launching two new versions of its chips with six brains today. The AMD Opteron HE and SE server microprocessors have six cores, or processors, on a single chip. The introduction is the latest volley in the ongoing tennis match AMD is playing with Intel.

With these two new versions, AMD is spreading out its product line and executing better. It launched its first six-core chip on June 1, about six months ahead of schedule. Now it’s adding more flavors for customers who have slightly different needs. These ones offer 18 percent better performance per watt of power than the company’s previous models.

But the market remains extremely competitive. Analysts note that Intel’s Nehalem family of server processors has been extremely well received this year. AMD has to keep on the treadmill just to make sure that it doesn’t lose ground to the world’s biggest chip maker.

AMD’s Opteron SE version is a high-performance model that is aimed at delivering the best performance for scientists running high-performance computing experiments. But it consumes 105 watts of power, or enough to cook an egg on top of it. The HE version is a low-power chip that consumes 55 watts. The HE is more appropriate in densely packed servers where staying energy efficient is the priority.

The HE chips are more like what computer makers will use to build large cloud-computing data centers. Those data centers would likely serve various Web 2.0 companies that have to serve a lot of web pages to consumers,  said Steve Demski, product manager at the server and workstation division of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD. The interesting thing is that it’s more likely that all server makers will adopt the low-power version, while a handful are likely to adopt the high-performance version. If you look back some years, that’s the exact opposite of what you used to see.

The HE versions range in price from $455 to $1,019, while the SE versions cost $$1,514 to $2,649. Among the customers introducing new machines based on the chips today is Hewlett-Packard, the leader in the server market. If AMD keeps this up, it could have a pretty good year. AMD is expected to lose money in the second quarter, but it may do better in the second half of the year, according to FTN Equity Capital Markets analyst JoAnne Feeney. We’ll see how the competition is shaping up starting on Tuesday, when Intel reports its second quarter results.