Energy-efficiency gains come from a number of new and enhanced features, including a processor idle power level of 10 watts, new integrated power gates based on Intel's high-k metal gate technology that enable cores that aren't being utilized to power down automatically, and up to 15 automated operating states.
Other new features include the automated new server boards and the Intel 82559 10 Gigabit Ethernet Controller, which also offers more virtualization capabilities and unified networking support. The I/O virtualization technologies include Intel VT-c for greater interconnect capabilities across Intel multicore chip platforms. VT-c also works with Intel I/O Acceleration Technology and Virtual Machine Device Queues to improve virtualization performance.
In addition, Intel announced Intel Data Center Manager, an SDK (software development kit) that lets administrators set power policies in chips, servers and racks.
Gelsinger said the 5500 series offers a 9-1 consolidation ratio for servers running older Intel chips and a nine-times improvement in the data center space, and does this while being 18 percent more energy-efficient.
In comparison with other chip platforms, he said the 5500 series beats Sun Microsystems' most efficient UltraSPARC T2 processor, with half the cost and 1.71 times the performance. Compared with IBM's Power5 chip, the 5500 series is a tenth of the cost and 2.45 times the performance, he said.
Gelsinger also said the Nehalem chips are socket-compatible with the upcoming six-core "Westmere" 32-nm chips.
"For Intel, [Nehalem] is an extremely important product because of the performance increases, because of the capabilities inherent in the process and [because now] Intel can say unequivocally that they've taken back the lead from their smaller rival [AMD]," said John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research.
Since releasing Opteron, AMD has touted a superior design over Intel's Xeon chips, in particular pointing to the integrated memory controller, which does away with the need for a front-side bus. Having an integrated memory controller is a big step for Intel, particularly given the growing demand of memory-intensive workloads.