Intel Brings Haswell to Xeon E3 Server Chips
Intel officials have spent most of their time when talking about the "Haswell" processor microarchitecture focusing on what it will mean in the PC and mobile device markets.
At the Computex 2013 show in Taiwan, much of the focus around the release of Haswell was on the fourth-generation Core chips for PCs, and the systems OEMs were launching or upgrading with the Intel chips. However, Intel also rolled out the first of the Xeon server chips to sport the Haswell architecture.
Intel on June 4 unveiled the Xeon E3-1200S v3 processor, which is aimed at smaller single-socket systems running general-purpose workloads or used by small businesses, workstations, Xeon-based microservers and such media workloads as online gaming and virtual desktop infrastructures.
The new Xeon E3-1200S is the first of what will be a refresh of Intel's server chips this year, according to Dylan Larson, Xeon product line manager at Intel. In the third quarter, Intel will release the Xeon E5-2600 V2 family of chips for two-socket systems that require high performance and energy efficiency, and in the fourth quarter the high-end Xeon E7-8800/4800/2800 v2 processors for four- to eight-socket servers.
In addition, in the second half of 2013, the chip maker will release low-power Atom "Avoton" and "Rangeley" systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), which will be built on the upcoming "Silvermont" microarchitecture and target the microserver market, an area of growing demand and expected competition from ARM and its partners. The Avoton chips will be for low-power microservers, while Rangeley will be aimed at infrastructure systems like switches and routers.
The 22-nanometer Haswell microarchitecture will bring greater performance and energy efficiency than current Xeon E3 chips, Larson told eWEEK. It's up to 18 percent more power-efficient, offers 52 percent better performance per watt, and at 13 watts, is the lowest-power Xeon ever.
However, it's the improvements in media and graphics capabilities that are particularly exciting, he said.
"It unlocks new potential for us," Larson said.
Intel historically has lagged behind Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia in its graphics capabilities, but that is changing, he said. The Haswell microarchitecture will bring a 38 percent improvement in graphics capabilities, and will help with media workloads, cloud gaming and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), he said.
In the area of media, video is a key issue. Pointing to numbers compiled by Cisco Systems, Larson noted that video is now more than half of global Internet traffic, and that by 2016, video—from Internet TV to video-on-demand—will account for 86 percent of the traffic. In the Xeon E3-1200 v3 chips, Intel has included fixed-function hardware accelerator capabilities and high-end encoding.
The new chip will offer improved media transcoding that will make video delivery from the server faster, Larson said. That is particularly important, given the wide range of mobile devices that increasingly are being used for video. The transcoding capabilities—including a 10-times performance improvement in H.264 video transcoding—will enable Intel to compete strongly against AMD and ARM, he said.
"We believe these graphics capabilities will really give us a leadership position in this," Larson said.
Intel also is offering a Media Software Development Kit to enable third-party developers to write software to the chip. It will support both Linux and Windows. Intel already has a number of interested software makers, including ArcSoft, Wowza Media Systems, Ubitus and Nablet.
Developers "are pretty excited," Larson said, noting a strong response after Intel first mentioned the idea earlier this year.
The new graphics capabilities will enable Intel to expand its reach into such areas as mobile video, broadcasting, video conferencing and cloud-based media services, particularly gaming, he said.