Intel Says Its Back in the Server Game

The chip maker is accelerating the delivery of server chips as it touts their advantages over the Opteron chip from its rival, AMD.

Intel is upping its commitment to lowering server power.

The chip maker on June 6 disclosed to analysts plans to launch its dual-core "Woodcrest" Xeon DP 5000 series processor on June 26 and to pull the introduction of its "Tulsa" Xeon MP ahead by a quarter, while also delivering lower-power versions of that chip.

The acceleration of the new Xeons—Woodcrest was originally slated to come in the third quarter—shows Intel is taking energy efficiency seriously enough to snatch performance per watt leadership from rival Advanced Micro Devices, whose momentum it aims to stem with the new chips.

Intels quick move to new Xeons is one attempt by the chip maker, which has been criticized in the recent past for offering power hungry chips, to address senior IT managers growing concerns about datacenter electrical and cooling bills.

Woodcrest is "showing tremendous performance, even exceeding our own engineering goals," Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group and Co-GM Server Platforms Group, said during an analyst briefing on June 6.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about Intels plans to move more quickly between processor architectures in the future.

While it promises high performance, Woodcrests "power looks outstanding…beating our 80-watt goal with the majority of our volume coming at 65 watts."

Indeed, the majority of the two Xeon processor lines will each use less power than previously estimated, with Woodcrest arriving at 65 watts and Tulsa coming at 95 watts. The top performing versions of the chips will still hit 80 watts and 150 watts, however.

But the power consumption numbers alone are not the only measurements IT managers should base their buying decisions on, Skaugen said.

Skaugen encouraged IT managers to instead look at the total amount of power a given machine draws from an electrical socket.

This watts-at-the-wall measurement, he said, is more accurate than adding up chip specs, which tend to reflect maximum power consumption because they show what a server behaves like under various loads.

The Intel executives took issue with past statements by Advanced Micro Devices executives that have contrasted AMDs power consumption specifications for Opteron platforms.

AMD has totaled up its own Opteron processor and memory power consumption specifications and compared them with those of Woodcrest Xeon and come out ahead.

Opterons totals differ as they include memory controllers and work with DDR2 (double data rate 2 dynamic RAM), while Woodcrest chips, like other Intel processors, use discrete controllers and FB-DIMMs (Fully-Buffered Dual Inline Memory Modules).

FB-DIMMS embed a buffer chip to boost their performance, and also use more power—roughly nine to 10 watts of power—versus non-buffered DDR modules.

"Measuring thermal design point [specifications] is kind of like going around and determining your monthly electric bill by going around and counting every appliance and every light bulb," Skaugen said.

Average system power, instead, should be the focus, he said.

AMD executives dont necessarily disagree with what Skaugen had to say, an AMD spokesman said.

AMD officials have also said that power at the wall should be the main focus of IT managers attentions. Several groups, which have varying levels of involvement from both Intel and AMD, are now actively working on server power benchmarks.

AMD also kicked off the Green Grid Alliance, which is working to teach companies more about data center power efficiency.

Next Page: Chips put to the test.