Enterprises over the next few weeks will get a better view of their future multicore chip options as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices prepare to move quickly on their road maps.
Intel officials on May 26 are expected to offer details of their eight-core Nehalem EX processors for high-end servers with four or more sockets. The chips, which will run 16 threads simultaneously, are expected to ship in systems later this year or in early 2010.
The Nehalem EX is the bigger brother to the Nehalem EP chip-now called the Xeon 5500 Series-for systems with two sockets, which was released March 30, along with a host of systems running it from vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu.
Like the Nehalem EP, the EX will offer such features as an integrated memory controller-similar to what AMD has been offering on Opteron for six years-and a chip-to-chip interconnect, plus enhanced virtualization capabilities and better energy efficiency.
The new high-end Xeons will become the top choice from Intel for high-end servers. Currently the chip maker offers the six-core "Dunnington" chip, which was released last fall.
For its part, AMD is preparing to officially release its own six-core processor, code-named "Istanbul," in June. Initially the company planned for a rollout later in the year, but officials announced in late April that they had moved up the release date.
With its accelerated schedule, AMD began releasing the chip to OEMs in May, with Istanbul-powered systems expected in June.
AMD's rollout comes as the company works its way through a tough global economy that is battering many technology vendors. AMD posted a first-quarter loss of $416 million, and in early May announced a reorganization that includes merging its CPU and graphics chips business, which President and CEO Dirk Meyer said will be a key differentiator for AMD down the road.
AMD recently got a win when the European Commission fined Intel $1.45 billion for antitrust violations. AMD officials applauded the decision, while Intel officials said they would appeal.
The fine just feeds into what has been a heated competition between the two companies since AMD launched its first Opteron chip in 2003.
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said enterprises will welcome the new multicore processors from both companies as they look for ways to increase the performance of the IT environments while driving down costs. Having more cores is one way to do that.
"IT managers are very savvy about technology, and they will view increasing core counts as a positive; really a way to get the most out of a machine," Spooner said in an IM interview. "Value for their dollar-especially these days-is vital, so IT managers will choose the options that work best for them. Whether that's six or eight cores really depends on the application."
He said AMD's introduction of the six-core Istanbul chip could be a boon for the company in the two-socket server space, though not so much in the higher-end systems with four or more sockets, where Nehalem EX will play.
"Having a six-core option for the mainstream, two-socket market gives AMD something of an advantage in the marketing department," Spooner said. "I think that, on paper, more cores is better and that will likely get AMD in the door in a lot of situations where IT managers will want to evaluate Istanbul to see if it provides them with that extra value for the dollar. It remains to be seen if six-core Istanbul will beat out four-core Xeon 5500/Nehalem."
For those higher-end systems, it may be a tougher sale, Spooner said.
"There, swapping processors essentially costs nothing," he said. "It's a few hundred or a few thousand dollars."