Intel Brings Quad-core Chips to Market

 
 
By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2006-11-14
 
 
 
Intel is entering the quad-core era.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company on Nov. 14 is rolling out its first chips with four processing cores for servers, workstations and desktop PCs, and OEMs large and small are supporting the move with systems powered by the chips.

Dell and IBM earlier in November announced new systems that were ready for Intels new chips, and Hewlett-Packard, Gateway and Verari Systems are among the server makers unveiling new hardware in conjunction with Intels rollout.

"[Users] can benefit today, in about every application running in servers today," said Steve Smith, vice president and director of operations at Intels Digital Enterprise Group.

Intel is introducing the Xeon 5300 family of processors for servers—formerly code-named Clovertown—as well as the Core 2 Extreme quad-core QX6700 for high-end client systems.

The new server chips, built using Intels 65-nanometer manufacturing process, offer 1.5 times the performance of the current dual-core offerings, and four times the performance of the single-core Xeons, Smith said. The chips have been shipping to manufacturers for several weeks, he said.

Those gains come within the same power envelope as the dual-core chips, at about 80 watts for the mainstream chips, and at prices equal or close to those of the dual-core processors, he said. The Xeon 5300 series comes with four chips that range in speed from 1.6GHz to 2.66GHz, and in price from $455 per 1,000 units shipped to $1,172.

The client quad-core chip is priced at $999, with a frequency of 2.66GHz and a power envelope up to 130 watts.

The new chips put Intel ahead of rival Advanced Micro Devices in the race to quad-core processing, after three years of watching AMD beat it to the punch on such technologies as 64-bit x86 computing and dual-core technology. AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is expected to launch its first quad-core chips in 2007.

AMD officials have criticized Intels Clovertown architecture, saying its design of essentially tying two dual-core chips onto a single piece of silicon is less elegant than AMDs native four-core design. Smith dismissed such criticism.

"AMD discussed quad-core requirements with our customers and their end users, and determined that a stopgap, multichip module approach would fall short in several dimensions, most notably in performance scalability under real application loads, and power efficiency," Randy Allen, corporate vice president for AMDs Server and Workstation Business, said in a statement.

Smith disputed AMDs remarks. "AMD is talking about architecture because they dont have a product," he said.

Intel touts the advantages of quad-core chips. Click here to read more.

Smith said using the Clovertown architecture allowed Intel to get first to the market with x86 quad-core technology, in addition to improving manufacturing output and flexibility.

"As a user, what I care about is getting four cores, using four cores and getting results," he said. "It doesnt matter how theyre put together."

Charles Orndorff, vice president of infrastructure services for Crossmark Holdings, said his company has a mix of Intel- and AMD-based servers from HP, though the only dual-core chips he uses currently are Opteron. However, he said he will take a look at systems with Intels new quad-core chips.

"If its price-competitive with existing technologies and we have a need for such processing, why not?" said Orndorff, in Plano, Texas.

A key driver of adoption will be what software vendors decide regarding pricing, he said. Currently companies like Microsoft and SAP price on a per-socket—rather than per-core—basis. "But what do you do when you put in a four-way quad-core?" Orndorff asked. "Then youre running what is really 16 cores. What will they do then?"

HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., is offering nine new systems that will start shipping the week of Intels announcement, said Christina Tiner, group manager for product marketing for HPs Industry Standard Server group. The systems touch on every segment, from the low-end ProLiant ML150 G3 to the BladeSystem C-Class blade server platform.

"There is up to a 50 percent [performance] bump with no new power consumption," Tiner said. "Its hard for the industry to ignore these types of performance improvements."

That power efficiency is enhanced by technology from HP, including upcoming add-ons to the companys Insight Manager software that will better aggregate power data to allow IT administrators to improve their management capabilities, she said.

In addition to the servers, HP also is putting the Xeon 5300 and Extreme QX6700 chips in new workstations.

Gateway, which earlier in November unveiled its first AMD-powered servers, will offer Intels quad-core chips in both its server and high-end desktop machines. The Irvine, Calif., company will offer the chips in its 1U (1.75-inch) and 2U (3.5-inch) servers, as well as its high-end FX530 consumer desktop.

Officials with Verari, of San Diego, Calif., said Verari will update its line of Intel-based systems and blade servers with the new quad-core Xeons. Verari will make the announcement at the SuperComputing show in Tampa, Fla.

Convera, which provides a search engine for professionals with its TrueKnowledge Platform technology, has been testing the quad-core processors on Verari servers for a couple of months. The Vienna, Va., company found that the systems could index five times more data per second than dual-core servers, and index three times more content per watt, said Michael Choi, director of business development.

Convera, which continually indexes about 5 billion Web pages, runs two data centers and is often looking for ways to reduce the amount of space taken up by servers while improving performance. One way the company will do that is by migrating from dual-core systems to quad-core, Choi said.

"Given that were a hosted Web search provider, we are always conscientious of costs and expenses related to that," Choi said. "One … such [source of expense] has to be the footprint [of the systems in the data center]. … Ultimately, its all about reducing costs and improving performance and, of course, the speed of service to the users."

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