Both AMD and Intel are expected to move in 2009 to server CPUs using three rather than two memory channels, a fact likely to create heavy lifting for users of large computing cluster with applications highly tuned to the details of hardware memory and cache structures.
"I have a feeling the software engineers will scream," said Pokorny. "They are so tied to powers of two that it will take awhile for the apps to get optimized," he said.
In HPC markets, users carefully tune cache alignment and replacement policies in their code, making sure application data is carefully placed to optimize cache behavior, Pokorny said.
"Those are the little things HPC people focus on, putting in a lot of effort to get a little more performance," he said. "Six cores and three memory controllers can throw off those caching algorithms."
The integrators praised the Shanghai design because it is a drop-in replacement for existing boards and does not require new chip sets. By contrast, Intel's Nehalem family will need new chip sets to support its higher level of integration and its Quick Path Interconnect, a new high-speed processor bus.
With Shanghai "I didn't have to spend time validating new chip sets and memory types," said Edward Holden, server product manager for Verari Systems (San Diego).
"Because Shanghai is a drop-in replacement we could concentrate in other areas like rolling out 2.5-inch hard drives for our systems where previously we had only 3.5-inch drives," said Pokorny.
"It helps us dramatically when there is some level of stability," said Lee. "When you have to swap out boards every year and a half you are forever in a design cycle."
Lee said he has already seen business tighten in government contracts for large computing clusters, in part a response to the amount of Department of Defense money being channeled into the Iraq war.
Holden of Verari said he has yet to see any slowdown in the computing spending for his customers in financial and Web 2.0 services.
"We've been trying to sell into financial services, and we have made some good inroads recently," he said. "We were worried this would slow down but they are actually spending more with us.
"We see a lot of financial companies still putting a lot of money into R&D," he added. "Web 2.0 companies are not slowing down either, with companies like Facebook and MySpace spending more in infrastructure," he added.
The first quarter of 2009 "looks steady," but the rest of next year "is still a mystery," Holden said.
For its part, AMD announced plans to layoff 500 people across the company on Thursday (Nov 6).