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Stephen Shankland


Advanced Micro Devices plans to announce on Monday technology that will help its server processors run cooler when idle, a feature that could help customers grapple with electricity and air-conditioning costs.

Processor performance gains have been outpaced by increasing power demands and corresponding amounts of waste heat, a problem for those wishing to pack servers more densely in data centers without risking overheating problems such as data loss or crashes. To help ameliorate the situation, AMD has begun bringing power-reduction technology initially developed for its notebook processors to its Opteron processors for servers.

The technology, called PowerNow with Optimized Power Management, lets the operating system slow the processor’s clock speed and consequently reduce power consumption by as much as 80 percent, said Ben Williams, vice president of AMD’s server microprocessor business unit.

The move is the newest step in the years-long arms race between AMD and its Silicon Valley rival, Intel. PowerNow in Opteron mirrors Intel’s move to bring its own SpeedStep technology from mobile processors to its server line.

“If you can use less power, you can create denser configurations and you can help the customer cut down on operating expenses in terms of air-conditioning load,” Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said. “It’s not as if (PowerNow) was going to give AMD a unique advantage there, but certainly it balances any advantage Intel thought it would have.”

AMD’s PowerNow feature has been built into Opteron processors that have been shipping since mid-2004, Williams said. However, computers won’t be able to use it until the first half of 2005, when support is due to arrive in the operating system and in a lower-level hardware control system called the BIOS, or basic input-output system.

Support will be included with Microsoft Windows and with versions of Linux from Red Hat, Novell and others, Williams added.

The technology comes with “hooks” that will let management software control when or if PowerNow will be used. Servers could be set to shut it off during predictable peak demand periods or switch it on to conserve backup battery power during power outages, Williams said.

Heating issues are common. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimates it pays $1 million per year in power and air conditioning costs for each megawatt of power its supercomputers need. And a new NASA Supercomputer built by Silicon Graphics requires liquid cooling for its newer components.

Trying to cash in on the issue, Cooligy is selling special PC cooling systems and Hewlett-Packard offers a cooling service to help customers minimize problems through careful equipment placement.