AMD today released an updated version of its Opteron processor, the popular server chip that has made the firm a serious competitor of rival Intel.

Vendors including HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems have announced plans to sell servers using the new 'Rev F' chip – formally the Next-Generation AMD Opteron Processor.

Vendors applaud the chip's support of virtualisation and DDR2 memory, and its ability to maintain constant electrical and thermal boundaries as it rises from dual-core design today to quad-core in 2007.

"Opteron's success stems from its simplicity. When we changed from single to dual core, we maintained the same socket, thermals and motherboard. That keeps it predictable for IT managers as they plan their data centers," said Vladimir Rozanovich, director of North America commercial business at AMD.

AMD hopes the chip will preserve its recent gains in market share. The company has watched sales rocket with Opteron, which is popular with customers. They like its power-efficient processing in an age of soaring costs for data centre power and cooling.

That popularity has driven server sellers such as Dell and IBM to launch AMD-based machines in recent months. By the end of 2006, Opteron chips will be used in 50 tier-one server platforms; double the number in 2005, Rozanovich said.

Indeed, AMD posted 25.9 percent share of the market for x86-based servers in the second quarter of 2006, a 133 percent increase from the same quarter last year, according to Mercury Research.

To illustrate the importance of Opteron in AMD's portfolio, its market share for all chips – including desktop, mobile and server – was only 21.6 percent that quarter.

The rest of the market belongs to Intel, which struck a blow against Opteron in June with the launch of its 'Woodcrest' Xeon 5100 server chip, a member of the company's Core 2 Duo generation of power-efficient chips built with 65nm (nanometre) architecture.

Now AMD hopes to regain its momentum with the Rev F chip.

AMD will sell the new Opteron in three power levels. The mainstream line runs at 95W, appropriate for tier-one vendors including Dell, HP, Sun and IBM, Rozanovich said.

A high-performance 'SE' version will run at 120W for a series of Sun servers, and a low power 'HE' version will run at 68W for blade servers used in the financial services and oil and gas exploration markets.

AMD further divides the new chip line into three server sizes. The Opteron 1000 series are appropriate for single-chip servers and workstations, while the 2000 series will fit two-processor machines and the 8000 series will fit four- and eight-chip machines.

The lion's share of sales will come in the two-chip server market, which accounts for 80 percent of all x86 servers, said Rozanovich. Most of the remainder comes in the fast-growing four-chip server segment.